Andy Ross 2017-02-19
More Publications Sitemap Contact
BLOG 2017

Jürgen Habermas:
A living German

Kersti Kaljulaid
Estlands Präsidentin
Kersti Kaljulaid
"Wir dürfen gegenüber
Putin niemals wanken"

"It's all fake news"

AR I watched some of his
press conference yesterday.
It was insufferable,

American Association
for the Advancement
of Science

US SoD James Mattis
James Mattis says America
could moderate its NATO
commitment if member
states fail to meet
the 2% target

"I condemn the launch of a
ballistic missile by the DPRK"
Jens Stoltenberg

AR Penrose expounded his
twistor ideas in his book
The Road to Reality.

In 2004 I was impressed
and wrote a long review
(chapter 12, Mindworlds).
Here is my shorter cut:
JCS 12(2), 78-83 (2005)

I want to study twistors
again once I've buffed
up my math skills.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier
wird neuer Bundespräsident.
Er nennt Deutschland "Anker
der Hoffnung" in der Welt.

AR Deutschland vertritt
Vernunft und Mäßigung.



2017 February 19

Fake Prez?

Fake News!

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!
POTUS Donald Trump

"We need a free press. We must have it. It's vital ... if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started."
Senator John McCain

2017 February 18

Munich Security Conference

MSC 2017

"The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to our transatlantic alliance ... We will stand by Europe today and every day."
VPOTUS Mike Pence

NATO Spending

Konstantin von Hammerstein, Peter Müller

US secretary of defense James Mattis: "I owe it to you to give clarity on the political reality in the United States and to state the fair demand from my country's people in concrete terms. America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this Alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defense."

Germany is the economic powerhouse of Europe, with a big budget surplus in 2016. Berlin wants to take on more responsibility for global security. The Pentagon sees Germany as the most important country in Europe, and the pressure from Washington is only going to grow in intensity.

Politicians in Berlin are aware that their neighbors fear a militarily powerful Germany. That helps explain why German military spending in real terms ranks only third in Europe, behind the UK and France. Were Germany to spend 2% of GDP on defense, its annual defense budget would rise from its current level of €37 billion to over €60 billion. That would make Germany by far the largest military power on the continent.

AR Peace is best served by ensuring that European defense spending has a more integrated character. A race of nations to the 2% line would only exacerbate international tensions.


The Times

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker: "I do not like our American friends narrowing down this concept of security to the military. If you look at what Europe is doing in defense, plus development aid, plus humanitarian aid, the comparison with the US looks rather different."

German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel: "We in Europe will have to take on more responsibility but security policy should not be reduced to the size of defense budgets. If we do that we will not be able to fight climate change, or water shortages, or poverty, or the crises that lead to violent conflicts."

German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen: "Our American friends know well that their tone on Europe and NATO has a direct influence on the cohesion of our continent. A stable European Union is just as much in the American interest as a united NATO."

Tony Blair: "The British people voted to leave Europe, and I agree the will of the people should prevail. I accept right now there is no widespread appetite to rethink. But the people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit."

AR With Brexit the UK is endangering the stability of the EU and hence weakening NATO too, so UK defense spending must be discounted accordingly. The German commitment to reducing the refugee problem counts for quite a few pro mille points of GDP. Do the math!

Trump — Nixon

Elizabeth Drew

Alarming events surrounding the presidency of Donald Trump remind me of Watergate.

The events around Richard Nixon in 1973 and 1974 ended in a president having to leave office before the end of his term. Nixon used the instruments of government against his opponents, whom he defined as enemies. Watergate was a constitutional crisis.

Donald Trump is becoming more and more obsessed with leaks. Nixon hired burglars to stop leaks that enraged him. Nixon and Trump both assumed government workers were out to get them. As Nixon did, Trump views the press with hostility. Nixon refused to obey a court ruling, and Trump attacks the integrity of a federal judge who ruled against his order.

Trump might quit — or his presidency might meet an ending not of his choosing.

AR My thoughts exactly.

2017 February 17

Unfit to Serve

E.J. Dionne Jr.

The man serving as POTUS 45 plainly has no business being POTUS.
Questions about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia will not go away.
It is only a matter of time — Americans need to face the truth.

American Autocracy

Jakob Augstein

It looks as if Donald Trump is not up to the job.

US intelligence service employees apparently gave the press incriminating material against Trump and his team. But anyone who sees the leaks as proof of the checks and balances of the US Constitution should think again. Trump seems to want an American autocracy, and the services are fighting back with autocratic methods.

America has become an unstable state.


Philip Stephens

Donald Trump imagined he could do as he pleased in the White House. The opening weeks of his presidency have been disastrous.

His hopes of a grand bargain with Vladimir Putin have dissolved. Firing Michael Flynn for lying to Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in Washington will not put things right. What did the president know and when?

The smiles in Moscow are turning to scowls. Putin hoped for a deal that would see the US president lift sanctions and acquiesce in Russian revanchism in return for notional cooperation in fighting Daesh. Such an agreement now looks impossible.

Consider the alt-facts. Flynn said that in three weeks the president had restored "America's leadership position" in the world.

Concerns About Science


Researchers are concerned at unprecedented levels about how a new presidential administration may undermine scientific work and delay its benefits.

AAAS CEO Rush Holt: "It used to be when someone would say they were concerned about the state of science, they were talking about funding for research ... What I hear now are concerns about what I would call an ongoing trend that goes back many years, even decades, where ideology and ideological assertions have been crowding out evidence in public and private debates and policymaking. It's reaching a place where people are truly troubled about what this means for the practice of science and the ability of science to bring its benefits to the population at large."

AAAS President Barbara Schaal: "This is not so that we can have our research grants, this is for the well-being of our nations and our global citizenry. The things that stimulate well-being, that give us a better life — adequate food, excellent health care, jobs — many of those things have basic science as an underpinning ... our concern is that the government won't have the scientific expertise that it will need to make the kind of standard policies that are going to be coming through Congress and by executive order."

2017 February 16

European Defense

Anne Applebaum

Donald Trump wrote in 2000 about defending Europe: "Their conflicts are not worth American lives."

The American political commitment to European security is waning rapidly. Britain, France, Germany and others should launch a new European security pact that reflects political reality.

Europe is at a major political turning point. A new organization could involve major new armaments, shared between countries. European countries can only gain from cooperating in cyber security and in procurement and operations.

NATO is poorly designed to confront terrorism and chaos in the south and hybrid warfare from Russia. A new European security pact is needed. Britain can take the lead.

Bootstrap Physics

Gabriel Popkin

Boiling water is an example of a phase transition. Hot water molecules jostle about vigorously and the fastest ones escape as steam. If you raise the pressure, you reach a critical point where it is hard to tell liquid and gas apart. The critical point is another phase transition.

Critical points are common. Ernst Ising imagined a magnetic material as made up tiny atomic magnets that can align N-S or S-N. Each tends to line up with its neighbors but can also flip randomly. The higher the temperature, the more likely a flip. But Ising could only build a 1D model.

Lars Onsager solved the 2D Ising model to show how a magnetic material above a critical temperature loses its magnetism. The 2D Ising model can simulate other phenomena that flip between states.

Alexander Polyakov saw that strongly coupled systems of fundamental particles could undergo phase transitions. For example, quarks are usually bound in nucleons by the strong nuclear force but at high energies they can reach a critical point and break free.

The 2D Ising model and the equations for elementary particles at their critical points share conformal symmetry. If the same were true of the 3D Ising model, its mathematical description might describe any strongly coupled system with the same symmetries.

Polyakov worked backwards to the equations. The more symmetries he had, the more he constrained the underlying equations. His technique is now known as the bootstrap method.

Several physicists are using the method to constrain the 3D Ising model more tightly and build a rigorous mathematical foundation. The Simons Foundation awarded them $10 million for the work.

AR Conformal symmetries are big for Penrose (The Road to Reality, §8.2, §27.12)

2017 February 15

The War for Civilization

Gideon Rachman

Donald Trump's ban on migrants and refugees from seven mainly Muslim countries may be just the beginning of repeated efforts in the US and Europe to restrict migration from the Muslim world.

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said at a Vatican seminar in 2014 that Judeo-Christian civilization is at the "beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism" — this is key to his role in the Trump administration.

In France, Marine Le Pen believes the West is engaged in a mortal struggle with radical Islam: "Washington, Paris and Moscow must form a strategic alliance against Islamic fundamentalism."

In the Netherlands, the Freedom party led by Geert Wilders is set to top the polls in next month's elections. In Germany, the AfD party is likely to become the first far-right party to enter the Bundestag since 1945.

Further jihadist attacks in the US and Europe will feed this fear and hostility. Demographic trends create pressure for migration from Muslim countries. The polemic is a foretaste of the future.



The Military Balance 2017 calculates that only two NATO member states met the 2% defense spending target in 2016. Greece spent 2.4%, Estonia 2.2%, and the UK only 1.98%.

The 2% target is now a political constraint for government leaders. The UK had committed in its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to clear the 2% bar. In the United States, the 2% figure became a symbol when Donald Trump hinted that US support could require NATO states to meet it.

There is no shared definition of defense budgets. NATO includes pensions, spending on peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, and research and development costs. The UN uses another definition. The UK reported £36.9 billion to the UN but £39.8 billion to NATO in 2013.

There is also no agreed source for calculating GDP share. The IISS collects GDP figures from the IMF World Economic Outlook database in US dollar terms. Different GDP figures will change the results, and whether or not states hit the 2% target depends on the sources and definitions.

European NATO member states increased real defense spending from US $255.7 billion in 2015 to US $256.5 billion in 2016, a 0.3% rise. Their overall GDP growth was 1.8%.

AR NATO says UK clears 2% bar.

2017 February 14

The Way of Love

Mustafa Akyol

Arnold Toynbee compared the crisis of Islam with that of the Jews two millennia ago. The Jews were a proud people defeated by a foreign empire. This ordeal bred two groups: Herodians (collaborators with Rome) and Zealots (militants against Rome).

Toynbee said modern Muslims have their own Herodians (such as Turkish founder Ataturk) and Zealots (like the Arabian Wahhabis). He predicted defeat for the Zealots. He forgot the third Jewish way, that of Jesus.

Muslims are going through a crisis very similar to the one Jesus addressed. The Muslim world has lost its early tolerance and suffocated in dogmatism. Jesus found a way out of a fixation on the letter of the law by looking instead at its purpose.

We Muslims can learn from Jesus.

Roger Penrose

Philip Ball

British mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose represents a generation who launched themselves into the universe armed only with their wits and imagination.

At Cambridge, Penrose studied algebraic geometry. While an undergraduate, he heard Fred Hoyle lecture on cosmology. Hoyle believed in a steady state universe and coined the term Big Bang in derision. Penrose: "I drew little pictures and convinced myself that what he said couldn't be true."

While a graduate student, Penrose saw an exhibition of art by M.C. Escher: "I was quite blown over. I came away and drew pictures of bridges and roads, which gradually simplified into the tribar."

Dennis Sciama prompted Penrose to a lecture by David Finkelstein, who was working on general relativity, black holes, and singularities. Penrose was hooked. In 1959 he travelled to Princeton to work with John Wheeler, who invented the term black hole.

Penrose showed that black holes could be real. Stephen Hawking saw the work and the pair began collaborating on gravitational singularities. But the concept of a singularity conflicts with quantum mechanics.

Penrose began in physics with quantum mechanics. A fundamental property of quantum particles is spin, but quantum spin seems to need objects to be spinning in twisted space. Their motion can be described using spinors.

Penrose developed a theory that adds a new twist to spinors. His twistors reveal deep connections between quantum theory and the shapes of spacetime. Penrose thinks twistors might lead to a theory of quantum gravity reconciling quantum theory and general relativity.

Penrose is 85. His ideas are still guided by an uninhibited spirit of inquiry.

2017 February 13


Daniel Dennett

Philosophy has not covered itself in glory. Sometimes, views can have terrifying consequences that might actually come true. I think what the postmodernists did was evil. They are responsible for the intellectual fad that made it respectable to be cynical about truth and facts.

Political activism is not my favourite activity but sometimes one has to engage in it. I begrudge every hour that I have to spend worrying about political issues. Every Republican senator has an opportunity to grow a spine and stand up for truth and justice and the rule of law.

The view of things getting better is the view of those who survive. The fact that we now understand more about how evolution works exposes the fragility of some features of our modern world. We now have to take care not to run off the cliff with our new technology.

No sooner do we develop the hardware to give the globe a nervous system than we spoil it. One danger of AI tools is that we become too dependent on them and give them more authority than they warrant. Technological oracles give very accurate results that we have no other way of getting. We get black box science.

Philosophers talk about the limits of comprehension. The only way we can make progress is by division of labor and specialization. Papers come out of CERN with 500 authors, not one of whom understands the whole paper or the whole science behind it. This is going to become more and more the meme. More and more, the unit of comprehension is going to be group comprehension.

2017 Darwin Day


Philip Ball

Life emerges naturally through the laws of physics and information theory. Information is physical and randomness is entropy. A demon using knowledge and intent to defy the laws of thermodynamics pays a penalty because it cannot have unlimited memory. When it clears its memory and erases information, it dissipates energy and increases entropy.

Living organisms have collectively been avoiding equilibrium since the origin of life. They harvest energy from their surroundings to capture and store information. Their genes are instructions for reaping negative entropy. An organism and its environment share information that helps the organism stay out of equilibrium.

Life is a computation that aims to optimize the storage and use of meaningful information. A lower limit on the energy used in computation is set by the cost of forgetting. The efficiency of the total computation done by a living cell is only a few times more than the thermodynamic limit.

Complex systems can absorb and dissipate energy in a fluctuating environment. As they do so, they generate entropy and tend to settle into well adapted and highly organized states. To use energy efficiently they can become prediction machines. Storing information with no predictive value has a cost, so they selectively harvest meaningful information.

Nonequilibrium systems maximize entropy. A system can maximize entropy over a time window into the future by comparing paths and taking the path of most entropy, with most options later. This drive to preserve freedom of future action creates outcomes that suggest intelligence.

AR This is the bright side.


SS-GB — Buckingham Palace, 1941
BBC One, 19 February, 9-10 pm, Ep 1/5

AR Nostalgia with a twist of "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet"





UK ranks 24th out
of 28 EU states
for renewable


Marine Le Pen will
pull France out
of € if she


2017 February 12


Jason Horowitz

White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon referred to the Italian philosopher Julius Evola in a Vatican speech in 2014.

Baron Giulio Cesare Andrea "Julius" Evola, who died in 1974, wrote on everything from Eastern religions to sex to alchemy. But he is best known as a leading proponent of Traditionalism.

Evola became a darling of Italian Fascists, and later Italian terrorists called themselves Children of the Sun after his vision of a Solar Civilization. He also inspired the Greek party Golden Dawn and the Hungarian party Jobbik.

Evola caught on in the United States with alt-right leaders, including US white supremacist Richard Spencer, who in the days after the presidential election led a crowd in chants of "Hail Trump!"

Born in 1898, Evola was a talented artist, who after fighting in World War I became a leading Dadaist. This gave way to a love for German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Evola's 1934 book The Revolt Against the Modern World cast materialism as eroding ancient values and saw the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, and humanism all as historical disasters that took man further away from the perennial truth.

Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini really liked Evola's 1941 book on racial doctrine. Evola eventually broke with the Italian Fascists because he considered them too tame. He preferred the Nazi SS as closer to his mythic ideal.

In his Vatican talk, Bannon also discussed Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is influenced by Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian Traditionalist who advocates Eurasianism to defend Europeans from democracy, liberty, and materialism.

Bannon on Evola: "We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what he's talking about as far as Traditionalism goes."

2017 February 11


Francis Su

When I think of human flourishing, I think of virtue. If you have a playful mind or a playful spirit, or you seek truth, or pursue beauty, or fight for justice, or love another human being, these are activities that line up with certain virtues.

If I learn mathematics and become a better thinker, I develop perseverance and hopefulness. Some people experience transcendent wonder at seeing something true about the universe, which is a source of joy and flourishing.

When we talk about teaching mathematics, sometimes we forget these larger virtues we are seeking to cultivate in our students. We are really training habits of mind, and those habits of mind allow people to flourish no matter what profession they go into.

Connect with people in a deep way and you will draw more people into mathematics. Being a mathematician lets us see things more for what they are. Having a mathematical background helps people to be less governed by their biases.

Many of the people at research universities would never consider taking students from an undergraduate college. They miss a lot of talent.

US — China

People's Daily

US President Donald Trump had a long phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi said adhering to the one-China principle is the political cornerstone of China-US relations. Trump now understands the importance of US adherence to the one-China policy, and his administration will honor it.

The two leaders also agreed to cooperate in trade, investment, and international affairs.

AR Thank you, Xi.

Quantum Entanglement

Natalie Wolchover

When two quantum particles interact they can become entangled, with a single probability function describing both particles together. If two entangled photons are polarized in perpendicular directions, there is some probability that photon A is vertically polarized and photon B is horizontally polarized, and some chance of the opposite. However far apart they are, measure photon A to be vertically polarized and you know photon B is horizontally polarized.

In 1964, John Bell showed that if particles have definite states even when no one is looking (realism) and if no signal travels faster than light (locality), then there is an upper limit to the amount of correlation between the measured states of two particles. Experiments show that entangled particles are more correlated than the Bell limit, favoring quantum theory.

In a Bell test, entangled photons A and B fly apart to remote optical modulators that either block or pass photons, depending on the polarization angles. Bell assumed that the modulator settings are independent of the states of the photons. But if the modulators were not independent, this reduced freedom could explain apparent entanglement.

Bell test measuring devices have two possible settings (say 1 or 0), so two bits specify their settings when they are independent. In 2010, Michael Hall showed that if only one bit does so once in every 22 runs, this halves the number of possible measurement settings available in the 22 runs. This reduced freedom lets measurement outcomes exceed the Bell limit.

In a cosmic Bell test experiment, a team of researchers sent pairs of photons a long distance into optical modulators and tallied coincident detections. They attempted to maximize freedom by viewing a bright (but otherwise random) star, and, before each measurement, using the color of an incoming photon from the star to set the angle of a modulator. The photon colors were decided long ago, when they left their stars.

The team found that the measurement outcomes still exceeded the Bell limit. Nature would have had to restrict the possible measurement settings at least 600 years before the measurements occurred. Next, the team plans to use light from distant quasars to push further back in time, but most scientists bet on entanglement.

AR I do too. In my view, measurement that breaks entanglement reflects popping out of spacetime in a mindworld jump. This is an epistemic leap forward to reflect an ontic pop. The epistemo-ontic dialectic of successive temporal popouts has a model in axiomatic set theory.

2017 February 10

Brexit Deckchairs, Trump Titanic

Joseph O'Neill

While Leavers and Remainers argue with Lilliputian ferocity about hypothetical trading scenarios and legislative technicalities and putative deals, the UK faces its gravest national security threat since the second world war.

President Trump wants to bring about a Russian-American axis that would enfeeble NATO, destroy the European Union, and dominate a continent reduced to national fragments. He has instantly turned the US into a rogue state.

His impulsive actions as president add up to an agenda of unhinged belligerence and international lawlessness. He has shrunk the executive branch of government into a private dictatorial clique. He has excluded from his decision making process all the officials who would ordinarily be consulted. He has ridiculed countless respectable citizens.

Trumpism is a lethal, highly infectious political disease. Fight it or succumb to it.

The Brexit referendum took place in a world that no longer exists. Everybody assumed that the UK could negotiate its new trade and security arrangements in a geopolitically stable world. Everybody assumed the presence of a sane and friendly US president.

The new Brexit white paper cites the National Security Risk Assessment of 2015: "Our democratic and inclusive values are the foundation of our security and prosperity. We will continue to uphold these values against those who are intent on undermining them."

To get the US trade deal that the UK needs, Theresa May will be forced to align Britain geopolitically with Trump. She will have to let Trumpism become the foundation of UK security.

If the UK rushes ahead with article 50 notification next month, it will face a choice: either side with Europe in opposition to the Trump-Putin axis but get no US trade deal or make that trade deal but become a Trumpist American client state.

Europe must stand together against Trump. Brexit is deckchairs and Trump is Titanic.

AR My cooler shrink-wrap of a bravura source text. Audacious metaphor!

Generation Zero

Thomas Frank

In 2010, Steve Bannon made the documentary movie Generation Zero. From the text on the DVD case: "The current economic crisis is not a failure of capitalism, but a failure of culture."

Bannon says the culture wars and the financial crisis both share the same villain: the bad values that supposedly infected the 60s. That decade apparently introduced Americans to irresponsibility and self-indulgence. Blame is offloaded from Wall Street to the hippies.

Generation Zero is profoundly irresponsible. Once upon a time, there was a dreadful decade, then four decades later a terrible financial crisis, and the one somehow caused the other. Voiceover: "In history, there are four turnings. The crisis. The high. The awakening. The unravelling. History repeats itself. The untold story about the financial meltdown."

The theory is ridiculous. But it is a way to get casino capitalism out of the shadow for the financial crisis and blame instead the forces the family values crowd has been complaining about for years. Generation Zero connects the dots by means of a vast looping diagram of fantastic confusion.

AR My view too (February 5).

2017 February 9

Alternative for Germany

Frauke Petry

Patriotism is based on having a healthy attitude toward your own country and your own history. My parents taught us to be critical. And being a scientist makes you very critical because you have to analyze everything.

German governments in the past have proven that the relationship to Israel is very important. Israel has already experienced what Europe is starting to experience now in terms of illegal migration and terrorism. Germany and Israel have a special relationship.

We separate religion from the state in Europe. Islam has not accepted that yet. In the Mideast, you even see a rollback to a more conservative model of society where religion dominates public life. And that is something we seriously criticize, because we see many of the migrants and asylum seekers coming to Germany importing this model of society to Germany.

It is too easy to compare what happened to Jews in Germany with our present criticism of Islam. Muslims who have lived in Germany for a long time and accept that their own religion has problems belong to Germany. Without forgetting what happened to the Jews, we are concerned about Muslims coming from Africa or the Mideast, who do not even want to integrate or assimilate.

Someone asked thousands of Muslim immigrants to Europe for their views on whether Sharia law or national legislation dominated how they behave toward ethnic and religious minorities. Most of them said that Sharia was more important to them than national legislation. They also revealed very little tolerance for the Jews. They arrive with attitudes that are so alien to our common behavior and European attitudes that we have to say there is a problem.

In many ways Islam is stuck in the Middle Ages. Medieval views do not fit in a democratic context. Many Jews in Israel are faced with this problem in everyday life. They need not fear AfD. I understand the sensitivity in the Jewish community on these questions.

Hot Chips on Venus

Sebastian Anthony

Venus has a surface temperature of 750 K and an atmospheric pressure of 9 MPa — and boiling sulfuric acid rain. This is hard on normal digital computers. But electronics based on silicon carbide (SiC) can take it. NASA crafted a chip and ran it in a test rig at 1.26 MHz for almost 2 Ms:

"With further technology maturation, such SiC IC electronics could drastically improve Venus lander designs and mission concepts, fundamentally enabling long-duration enhanced missions to the surface of Venus."

AR I still fancy living in a sunlit city floating above the Venusian clouds (blog 2014-12-23).

Brexit Bill


The House of Commons has approved the EU (now) bill and passed it to the Lords for further debate. If all goes to plan, Theresa May will be able to pull the trigger in March.

AR Then bang — game over.

2017 February 8

US v Rising Reds

Robert Kagan

The ambition and activism of Russia and China are rising as the confidence and capacity of the United States declines. As they cross, we will see the existing order collapse and the world descend into a phase of brutal anarchy. The cost of that descent will be staggering.

The greatest check on Chinese and Russian ambitions has been the military and economic power of the United States and its allies. For decades, this global dominance has discouraged any serious challenge. Chinese and Russian leaders feared that aggressive moves would backfire.

In recent years, the democratic order has weakened and fractured at its core. Difficult economic conditions, the recrudescence of nationalism and tribalism, weak and uncertain political leadership, and new media have together produced a crisis of confidence in the liberal project.

Whether the United States is willing to continue upholding the strategic order has been in doubt for some time. American patience with the difficulties and costs of playing that global role have worn thin. The weakness and withdrawal encourage a bolder stance by the dissatisfied powers.

Rising powers produce the insecurity they claim to want to redress. The United States cannot and should not prevent China from being an economic powerhouse, nor should it wish for the collapse of Russia. As for military and strategic competition, security comes first.

AR My guess — US will squander its strength against Iran.

UK v Five Facts

Martin Wolf

HM Government white paper: "Whilst Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU, it has not always felt like that."

The UK parliament has always been sovereign. Its ability to trigger Brexit proves it. Yet, driven by the presumed will of the people, HMG plans to leave the single market and the customs union.

Five challenges:

1 Article 50 states that the EU treaties shall cease to apply two years after the notification. The European Council can extend this period but the chances are slim. Businesses will need clarity well before the end, so UK leverage will rapidly dwindle.

2 No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The UK team is negotiating with the European Commission, 27 member states, and the European Parliament. They feel no urgent need to reach an agreement.

3 The European Commission wants to start with the terms of the divorce before starting talks on a future framework and a transition. The UK team says nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Disagreement can halt progress.

4 The commission calculates that Britain owes €60 billion. This demand could prove to be the decisive stumbling block.

5 The divorce will cover outstanding commitments, civil rights and housekeeping issues, complex trading arrangements, and perhaps sectoral customs unions and "enhanced equivalence" for finance. The complexity could prove overwhelming.

The path on which the UK is launched is deeply against its interests.

AR HM government admits the sovereignty argument for Brexit is invalid. Parliamentarians failed yesterday to deplore the push for Brexit in view of this admission during the second reading of the EU Notification of Withdrawal Bill.


US Army
THAAD — Terminal High Altitude Area Defense — is a Missile Defense Agency (MDA) ABM system designed to shoot down
SRBM/MRBM/IRBM in their terminal phase using a kinetic interceptor. Prime contractor: Lockheed Martin

AR China and Russia released a joint statement in January opposing plans to deploy THAAD — CNN.

Tsar Bomba


Germany Second

Jan Böhmermann

AR German humor is alive
and funny. Stay cool during
the German with subtitles:
the great bulk is in English.

Who wants to be second?

Arabella sings a song for


Come back Obama!
would prefer Obama as Prez
oppose impeaching Trump


UK parliament gives
Theresa May OK to
trigger Article 50

The United Kingdom's exit
from and new partnership
with the European Union

HM Government
PDF: 77 pages, 1.7 MB

US Grand Strategy
in the Trump Era
Colin Kahl, Hal Brands

Hacksaw Ridge
God and war — a gory story

AR When will we ever learn?


2017 February 7

Trump as Antichine

People's Daily

Since January 20, Trump has hit out on different fronts. He has lashed out at Germany, Japan and Mexico and issued a ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, but he is clear that China will certainly take retaliatory measures against his provocations. Hitting out against China will be a risky move, for which Trump needs to find a good reason and be certain about the benefits.

AR Will be suicidal for his historical reputation.

Trump as Thor

The New York Times

The Doomsday Clock stands at 150 seconds before midnight — the closest since 1953 after the United States and Soviet Union tested hydrogen bombs.

Donald Trump has spoken about nuking terrorists and expanding US nuclear capabilities. He wants to keep other nations on edge about whether he will go nuclear. Republican and Democratic presidents have long sought to ensure that these weapons are not used lightly.

Senator Edward Markey and Representative Ted Lieu propose legislation to prohibit any president from launching a first-strike nuclear weapon without a declaration of war from Congress. The bill would not undercut the president's ability to respond on his own authority to a nuclear attack.

A Pentagon board recently proposed that the United States consider building more lower-yield nuclear weapons to provide an option for limited use in a regional conflict. The only legitimate role for nuclear weapons is deterrence. The absurd notion of a limited nuclear war needs to be rejected.

Trump commands about 4,000 nukes that he alone is empowered to launch. Any decision to do so would have to be made quickly. The president has yet to put together a nuclear strategy and has shown a troubling propensity to discount or reject expert advice.

Trump has assumed office at a difficult time, a time for restraint and careful deliberation. Nuclear weapons are too dangerous to be brandished as a cudgel.

AR POTUS tweets while world burns.

Trump as Nero

Klaus Brinkbäumer

The United States president is becoming a danger to the world.

Germany must stand up in opposition to POTUS 45 and his administration. Americans gave us our liberal democracy, but we will now have to build an alliance against Donald Trump.

The president of the United States is a liar and a racist. He is attempting a coup from the top. He fired an attorney general who held a differing opinion from his own and accused her of betrayal. This is the way of the tyrant.

Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon hold science and education in contempt. We need organizations like the UN, the WTO, the IPCC, NATO, and the EU. Bannon wants to wipe them away.

President Trump fuses public concerns with nationalism and xenophobia. Demagogues work that way. The fact that he is calling for "America first" and trying to force the rest of the world into humiliating concessions is absurd.

The German economy is a target of American trade policy and German democracy is antithetical to nationalism. It is high time to stand up for democracy, freedom, and western alliances.

Europe must start planning its political and economic defenses.

AR Germans are sensitive to echoes of 1933.

2017 February 6

Bump and Trexit

Ken Clarke

You cannot put new trading barriers between yourself and the giant free trade area upon which we have been dependent for the past 30 years without making yourself poorer. I think Brexit will make us poorer. If it turns out to be at some enormous cost and it brings an end to international investment in quite a lot of sectors of the economy, then it could be a disaster.

Every US president until the present one has found us more valuable because we are the leading bridge into the EU. We carry clout because we are one of the two or three big members of the EU. We are giving all that up as well. We are a trading nation and we have political interests in all parts of the world, where we will find our voice and our clout substantially diminished.

The government have got this slogan about a global Britain and want to illustrate this by having good photo opportunities with leading figures around the world. So I suppose they thought it was quite a political coup to finally land this first meeting with Donald Trump. But we happen to have a rather unpleasant and highly unpredictable American president. Perhaps he wants to have a trade deal with us while he's busy repudiating deals with everybody else but I don't think so.

I have never seen anything as mad or chaotic as this.

EZ Rider

Wolfgang Münchau

During the EZ crisis, Germany insisted on fiscal austerity for the bloc as a whole. It also gave itself a constitutional balanced budget rule. This stops the German public sector from running a deficit that could offset the surplus of the private sector. The German structural surplus grows from tough fiscal rules and a weak currency.

US NTC head Peter Navarro: "The German structural imbalance in trade with the rest of the EU and the US underscores the economic heterogeneity within the EU."

AR The € would be stronger if UK rode EZ too.

2017 February 5

A City on a Hill

The Atlantic

America, born with the aspiration of becoming a city on a hill, is in danger of becoming a fortress. America is witnessing a new wave of nativist populism claiming to have the solutions for fighting Islamist extremists who claim to offer an alternative to globalization and American hegemony.

Trump aims to defeat radical Islamists. In fact, the incompetent text of his executive order and the ethnocentric texture of the narrative that has accompanied it are bound to fail at achieving this objective. The ban not only weakens moderates in the Muslim world, but also gives a huge propaganda victory to radical Islamists.

Only an America that is open, free, and true to its values can summon the understanding, forge the alliances, and win the broad cooperation necessary to defeat radical Islamist extremism. Only an America that welcomes immigrants and refugees will continue to innovate and prosper.

AR If Salt Lake City is a Mormon Masada, the rest is toast.

Steve Bannon


White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon negotiated a seat for himself on the National Security Council. Donald Trump is not one to cede authority, but after the first days at 1600 Pennsylvania, as one veteran Republican said, "It's already over, and Bannon won."

Bannon noted repeatedly on his radio show that "we're at war" with radical jihadis around the world. This is "a global existential war" that likely will become "a major shooting war" in the Mideast.

Born in 1953, Bannon came from a blue collar, Irish-Catholic family of Democrats. In the US Navy he earned a master's degree in national security studies from Georgetown, followed by an MBA from Harvard. From there he went to Goldman Sachs, then left to run his own firm in Hollywood.

Bannon was captivated by The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss and Neil Howe, and made a film based on it, Generation Zero (2010, 2:02:35).

Bannon took command at Breitbart in 2012 and made it a home for the alt right: "Our big belief, one of our central organizing principles at the site, is that we're at war."

Former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro: "He regularly abuses people. He sees everything as a war. Every time he feels crossed, he makes it his business to destroy his opponent."

AR Generation Zero is terrible, dump-quality war porn.

2017 February 4

Voter Verdict

The Times

President Trump's first fortnight in the White House has pleased the voters who put him there:

"He's been outstanding" — Fred Wiseman
"I feel safer" — Sally Armstrong
"He's done what he promised" — Ron Syme

Pollster Tony Fabrizio: "The average American is tired of America being taken advantage of."

Trump has already blown it
Stephen M. Walt

Trump has squandered a genuine opportunity to put American foreign policy on a more solid footing and has managed to unite and empower opposition at home and abroad.

Trump picked several fights with China while undercutting the US position in Asia, badgered Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in an acrimonious phone call, picked another pointless fight with Mexico, announced an unlawful ban on Muslim immigrants, and shut the door on hundreds of extensively vetted refugees on Holocaust Remembrance Day — and then deliberately excluded any mention of Jews from the official statement on the day itself.

Meanwhile, he is openly flirting with a trade war that would damage the entire world economy and continuing to destabilize relations with America's closest allies.

Merkels Mauer

Der Spiegel

Kanzlerin Angela Merkel in Malta: "Wir haben es als EU der 27 in der Hand, wie stark, wie gut, wie schnell, wie präzise Europa ist und wie wir unsere Probleme lösen."

Trump beschert Merkel in der Flüchtlingskrise ein doppeltes Problem: Seine Politik beflügelt Europas Rechtspopulisten. Doch in der Flüchtlingspolitik ist die EU näher an Trump, als manche es wahrhaben wollen. Denn ähnlich wie der US-Präsident hat auch die EU nun beschlossen, an ihrer Südgrenze eine Mauer hochzuziehen — aus Sicherheitskräften, Auffanglagern und Küstenwachbooten.

AR EU builds southern border "wall" with security forces, collection camps, and coastguard boats.

Trump Takeover

Yonatan Zunger

Consider the facts:

Trump intends to do everything he said during the campaign, and more.
The regime's main organizational goal right now is to transfer all effective power to a tight
    inner circle. Departments are being reorganized or purged to effect this.
The inner circle is actively probing the means by which they can seize unchallenged power.
Crushing various groups are primary aims of the regime, and are likely to be acted on with
    greater speed than was earlier suspected.

Things can go wrong

AR Some Jewish paranoia there, but the echoes of 1933 are serious and chilling. Houston — we have a problem!

2017 February 3

A Dark View of Islam

The New York Times

President Trump has unveiled a dark vision of an America under siege by radical Islam. His suspicious view of Islam borrows from the clash of civilizations thesis of Samuel Huntington. Rejected by most serious scholars of religion and shunned by US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, this dark view of Islam has flourished on the fringes of the American right.

White House Islam critic Steve Bannon says the Judeo-Christian West is at war with Islam: "There is a major war brewing, a war that's already global. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn't act ... To be brutally frank, Christianity is dying in Europe and Islam is on the rise."

AR This crusade against Islam is as ill-starred as the Nazi crusade against Communism. Lacking is due appreciation of the inner integrity of the opponent.

A Dark View of Politics

The New York Times

Donald Trump named Stephen Bannon to the NSC principals committee and downgraded the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the director of national intelligence will in future attend the principals committee meetings only where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are discussed.

Trump has no grounding in national security decision making, no sophistication in governance, and little apparent grasp of how to lead a great diverse nation. Bannon has positioned himself as a trusted aide, shutting out other voices that might offer alternative views. Trump's first spasms of policy making supply ample evidence that he needs advisers who can think strategically.

AR Trump is a weak man if he cannot take moral guidance from Obama.

A New View of Computing

W. K. Hensinger et al.

A large quantum computer may best be constructed using a modular approach. A trapped ion based scalable quantum computer module could be based on microwave quantum gates constructed using silicon fabrication techniques. A proposed design makes use of ion transport between modules. An error correction code can be implemented in the architecture and the modules could be used in alternative architectures.

AR This is a good step forward.

2017 February 2

Real Reality

Anil Ananthaswamy

Quantum theory treats forces as coming in quanta, but general relativity treats gravity as a smooth and continuous force. All efforts to quantize gravity have so far failed.

Juan Maldacena showed that, for a given volume of spacetime, a string theory describing gravity inside can be mathematically equivalent to a set of quantum equations describing the boundary of the volume without gravity. Maldacena duality hinted at a connection between general relativity and quantum mechanics.

Mark Van Raamsdonk looked at how the size of wormholes between two black holes reflects the entanglement of the black holes, as seen from the outside. He found that changing the amount of entanglement between the black holes changed the width of the wormhole, as if entanglement could create spacetime.

Leonard Susskind thinks spacetime in general is created by entanglement, but complexity is an issue. Quantum systems can be in a superposition of many states, and complexity grows exponentially with the number of states. The growth of black hole quantum complexity might be connected to the growth of spacetime inside them.

Sean Carroll and his team looked at Hilbert spaces. A Hilbert space represents all the possible states of a quantum system. Any Hilbert space can be broken into smaller such spaces. Carroll worked out the entanglement between the smaller constituent spaces. His team drew graphs in which the more entangled the parts, the closer they are together, and found some graphs for which moving from one position to another was relatively smooth, suggesting the smooth geometry of space could emerge from a quantum basis.

Erik Verlinde generalized Maldacena duality from anti-de Sitter space, which has a well defined boundary and volume, to our spacetime by seeing our cosmic horizon as a boundary. He showed how spacetime and gravity can emerge from entanglement and explain away dark energy.

Entanglement is information: the greater the entanglement between two systems, the more information they share. Quantum information underlying spacetime is not of or about anything. Qubits might be the foundation of real reality.

AR Continuing my own speculation (blog January 7), our growing spacetime bubble has a Maldacena boundary that we picture as a transparent threshold into a potentially infinite further spacetime. We can also see it as a firewall to uncountably many entangled qubits. With duality my bubble idea becomes a fruitful image rather than an odd fantasy.

2017 February 1

US v China

David Leonhardt

China remains far less powerful than the United States. But it has come a long way. Its economic progress and its ambitions, plus the size of its population, mean that China has become the only other potential global superpower.

Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The pact was always more about geopolitics than economics. Much of the Pacific Rim, including Australia, Vietnam and Malaysia, welcomed it as a way to offset Chinese power in Asia.

China is now trying to put together a different trade pact with some of the same countries. If China succeeds, it will gain more sway in Asia. Beijing will be able to say the United States has only a transactional interest in Asia.

AR Scrapping TPP — US own goal.

Tusk v Trump

BBC News

European Council President Donald Tusk warns that "worrying declarations" from US President Donald Trump challenge the EU.

In a letter to EU-27 leaders, Tusk said the new US administration was part of an external threat that also included an assertive China, an aggressive Russia, and radical Islam.

Tusk: "We cannot surrender to those who want to weaken or invalidate the Transatlantic bond, without which global order and peace cannot survive. We should remind our American friends of their own motto: United we stand, divided we fall."

AR US v EU — a tale of two Donalds.

Bannon v National Security

Asawin Suebsaeng

President Trump has appointed Stephen Bannon to the National Security Council. Bannon served seven years in the US Navy several decades ago and made his name in the private sector, Hollywood, and politics. He is obsessed with military history and the art of war.

A former Hollywood associate: "He constantly used military terms ... always spoke in terms of aggression. It was always on-the-attack, double down ... macho stuff."

Bannon: "Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that's my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment."

Hollywood writing partner and former close friend Julia Jones: "Steve is a strong militarist, he's in love with war — it's almost poetry to him. He's studied it down through the ages, from Greece, through Rome ... every battle, every war ... Never back down, never apologize, never show weakness ... He talked a lot about Sparta — how Sparta defeated Athens, he loved the story."

Bannon for NSC?
Nicole Gaouette

The National Security Council is a Cabinet-level group of agencies focused on national security that was established by President George H. W. Bush in 1989.

Former acting CIA chief Michael Morell: "Having somebody like Bannon in the room brings politics into a room where there should be no politics."

Senator Bernie Sanders: "Steve Bannon sitting on the National Security Council is dangerous and unprecedented. He must be removed."

Senator John McCain: "I am worried about the National Security Council ... The appointment of Mr. Bannon is ... a radical departure from any National Security Council in history."

AR Bannon — the hammer for Trump's Thor.

USS Georgia

USN photo # N-1841C-042
Ohio-class boomer USS Georgia (commissioned as SSBN-729 in 1984, redesignated to SSGN-729 in 2004).
Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines are set to replace them from 2031.

This is not what greatness
looks like.

The world rejects your fear,
hate-mongering, and bigotry.

As citizens of the world,
we stand united against
your brand of division.


AR #4,298,122+

More than 18,000 scientists
including 50 Nobel prizewinners
and 82 other awardees have
signed a petition and the
AAAS and the AAU have
issued statements
against the ban

Will Charles stay cool when
Trump visits Queen?

The Great Satan
US bans Iran citizens
Iran bans US citizens

Trump and May
Theresa May and Donald Trump
renew US-UK marriage vows

The probability of global
catastrophe is very high, and
the actions needed to reduce
the risks of disaster must
be taken very soon.
Atomic Scientists

2016 marks three consecutive
years of record warmth
for the globe

David Chalmers
David Chalmers

America First

Trump is emotionally invested
in Brexit. He feels that it and
his own victory are part of the
same movement. He wants
to get personally involved in
negotiating a trade deal
with the UK.

Trump is critical of NATO
and wants better relations
with Russia. He acts like he
wants the EU to fall apart.
His hostility rattles
EU leaders.

Origin of life

Oval Office
Credit: Kevin Dietsch
"Winston is back"
Churchill bust returns
to the Oval Office


2017 January 31

Trexit Disaster

Gideon Rachman

Donald Trump seems to offer Britain an exciting escape route from Europe. The UK can leap off the rotting raft of the EU and onto the gleaming battleship HMS Anglosphere.

Wrong. The election of Trump transforms Brexit from a risk into a disaster:

Theresa May forged a special relationship last Friday based on US-UK values. But on Saturday Trump dropped his "Muslim ban" bomb.

May wants the UK to champion global free trade. But Trump is the most protectionist US president since Hoover and could soon start slapping big tariffs on foreign goods.

May is a firm believer in the importance of NATO and the UN. But Trump has twice called NATO obsolete and is threatening to slash US funding of the UN.

May say Britain wants to work with a strong EU. But Trump is openly contemptuous of the EU and his aides have speculated that it might break up.

May sees an increased threat from a resurgent Russia. But Trump is already flirting with lifting sanctions.

UK foreign minister Boris Johnson talks up the prospects of a trade deal with Trump. Yet only a few months ago Boris was saying Trump was "clearly out of his mind" and betrayed a "stupefying ignorance" of the world.

A strong UK in the EU would keep its distance from Trump. Britain could defend free trade with the EU bulk behind it. Brexit Britain has embraced a US president Boris once called a madman.

AR Brexit Britain — not the EU bulldog but the US poodle.

The "Muslim Ban"

Sam Harris

President Trump has had a busy first week in office. Christian fundamentalism has become the least of our concerns. Our democracy has been engulfed by a hurricane of lies.

I think Trump's "Muslim ban" is unethical toward refugees and doomed to be ineffective in stopping the spread of Islamism.

Most of the opposition to his order is contaminated by identity politics and liberal delusion. The opponents continue to lie about the problem of Islamism.

One can speak about the ideological roots of Islamism and jihadism and about the need for reform in Islam without lapsing into bigotry or disregarding the suffering of refugees.

If liberals who refuse to speak honestly on these topics continue to march with Islamists, denigrate free speech, and oppose the work of reformers in the Muslim community, they will only further provoke and empower Trump.

The next acts of jihadist terrorism in America will most likely be met with terrifying countermeasures by the Trump administration. If liberals continue to lie about the causes of terrorism and lock arms with Islamists, we have some rough times ahead.

We need to defend secularism, science, and free speech against their enemies. We must choose between civilization or chaos.

AR Trump — the anti-Islamist golem.

2017 January 30

Germany First

Jacques Schuster

The Germans are ready to take on more responsibility worldwide. With the Federal Republic, they have created a thoroughly civilized state. This fact gives self-confidence.

The German interest in Europe is to shape it in a way that corresponds to its own goals, and to equip what remains of it politically, economically, and militarily so that it is not controlled by foreign powers. This in turn requires resolute rearmament.

Europe needs to be led by a state that is first among equals, strong, secure, firmly western, and aware of its own limits. Germany can be first only in partnership with allies.

AR The German original text was long and rambling.

Trump Economic Plan

Peter Navarro, Wilbur Ross

Donald Trump's economic plan proposes tax cuts, reduced regulation, lower energy costs, and eliminating the chronic US trade deficit. His goal is to increase US real GDP growth rate and create millions of additional new jobs and trillions of dollars of additional income and tax revenues.

We provide a transparent scoring of the Trump economic plan in the areas of trade, regulatory, and energy policy reforms based on conservative assumptions. Along with tax reform, these areas represent the four main points of the Trump policy compass. Each works with the others and in conjunction with proposed spending cuts.

Our analysis indicates that the Trump trade, regulatory, and energy policy reforms would collectively increase Federal tax revenues by $2.4 trillion. In a separate analysis, the Tax Foundation has reported a dynamically scored $2.6 trillion revenue reduction from the Trump tax cuts assuming guardrails to prevent abuse.

The Trump economic plan is fiscally conservative. When properly scored, it approaches revenue neutrality and, with proposed budget savings are taken into account, it achieves revenue neutrality. The challenge is to fix the underlying structural problems facing the US economy.

AR The plan might rely on a few alternative facts.

2017 January 29

POTUS-POR Teletalk

The New York Times

Donald Trump talked for an hour with Vladimir Putin and vowed to repair US-Russian relations.

White House: "Both President Trump and President Putin are hopeful that after today's call, the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern."

Kremlin: "Donald Trump asked to convey a desire for happiness and prosperity for the Russian people, noting that the people in America relate with sympathy to Russia and its citizens."

Trump-Merkel Telefonat

Die Welt

Der neue US-Präsident wird Deutschland spüren lassen, dass die NATO mehr Geld und Einsatz im Kampf gegen Daesh erwartet. Im Bundeshaushalt werden Milliarden-Verschiebungen stattfinden.

Die beiden Politiker verständigten sich in dem Telefonat auch auf eine enge Zusammenarbeit gegen den Terrorismus — trotz Merkels Kritik an dem neuen US-Einreiseverbot.

Dutch Boy Wonder

The Sunday Times

Dutch Forum for Democracy party leader and former university professor Thierry Baudet, 34, shares with Geert "Dutch Trump" Wilders a desire to lead Holland out of the EU as the only way to win back control over its borders.

Baudet: "The forces that produced Brexit in Britain and the election of Donald Trump in America are being unleashed in Holland as well."

AR Baudet is a friend of Sir Roger Scruton.

I Am American

Reza Aslan

When I was 7, my family fled a violent revolution in Iran. We arrived in the United States with nothing but a suitcase each. We chose America.

Donald Trump has signed an executive order that effectively bars citizens of a number of Muslim countries including Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Somalia and Syria from entering the United States. This follows his promise to ban all Muslim immigrants.

No president has ever attempted to implement a religious test on migration for the simple reason that a ban based on religion violates the establishment clause of Constitution. But that is what Trump is planning on doing. His executive order is a Muslim ban by another name.

Trump says the restrictions focus on countries whose migrants could pose a threat to Americans. But then it should restrict citizens from Saudi Arabia. This executive order is an assault on the civil rights of Muslim citizens in the United States.

I am an American. If the President of the United States can threaten my rights as a citizen, then he can do the same for any one of us.

AR Aslan is the author of Zealot.

The Trump Inauguration

Caitlin Moran

You know you're going to see the Trump inauguration a thousand times, in documentaries, for the rest of your life. But you don't know how it will be remembered.

A voice-over will tell the story of what happened next, after this angry man walked on to the stage — fist aloft, under a low grey sky, to the half-empty Mall — and made his vows.

It looked like the end. America is suddenly the kind of country that tells crazy lies. In his dark, angry speech — carnage, tombstones, bleeding — Trump did not herald a new era.

The future voice-overs will tell us he is the impossible president. Impossible things tend not to last very long. They are mutated ends — not beginnings.

2017 January 28

Eclipse of the West

John Bew

Before Donald Trump, Washington insiders believed that America was the indispensable nation. The cost of US hegemony was an issue during the primaries. Republican foreign policy experts were alarmed by the prospect of a Trump presidency.

The crisis of the West has been tied to repeated failures in foreign policy. In this century, the limits of Western power have been illustrated time and again, nowhere more so than in the Mideast. There has been a loss of appetite for lengthy and complicated foreign entanglements.

The Western way of war has become discredited. The fashion for counterinsurgency partly grew out of a desire to evolve towards a more sophisticated and more politically palatable use of force. Even when it works, the political and financial costs of such lengthy campaigns are unsustainable.

Blessed with decades of relative security, we have lost the custom of thinking strategically. Having enjoyed a preponderance of force and wealth, we have failed to grasp the changes in international affairs. Behind all of this is a loss of confidence in the merits of Western civilization.

Britain has carved out a privileged place for itselfin the slipstream of US foreign policy. Its greatest strategic nightmare has been the prospect of an American retreat from its global responsibilities. A rebalancing of the international system is about to begin.

American Identity

Holger Stark

The America of today has lost faith in its own superiority. It has become a regressive country that is turning its back on the world. From Alabama to Alaska, you will find that the American Dream has been lost.

American streets are full of holes, US airports look old, and falling trees regularly cause power outages. Over the last 30 years, mainstream politicians have worked tirelessly to destroy the state, which they see as a form of imposed socialist administration. They have made America weak.

A new understanding of the state is long overdue in America. In a globalized world the protective identity of a state is necessary. Donald Trump is one of the few conservatives to have recognized that fact.

Create Defense Union

Die Welt

EU military spending is the second highest in the world, at roughly half that of the United States, but the spending is inefficient. A more secure European Union can only be created if we act together by:

1 Building partnerships, promoting reconciliation, and strengthening resilience, in order to react more quickly, coordinate our civilian and military missions better, and use our financial resources more wisely;

2 Cooperating more closely with our most important security partners and with NATO;

3 Investing in the expansion of research and other capacities to exploit the internal market for defense procurement, where lack of cooperation between member states costs an estimated €100 billion annually.

We should develop the EU into a real defensive organization.

AR Without duplicating or bypassing NATO, we trust.

2017 January 27

American Carnage

Washington Post

The entire senior level of US State Department management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior foreign service officers. Outgoing State Department chief of staff David Wade: "It's the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember, and that’s incredibly difficult to replicate. Department expertise in security, management, administrative and consular positions in particular are very difficult to replicate and particularly difficult to find in the private sector."

"Donald Trump has sounded the retreat. Whether under his America First view, his willingness to let other powers take the lead, his distrust of international institutions, or pure ignorance, he has ushered in a blight befalling the world as a consequence of mean-spirited, ill-considered, short-sighted US foreign policy."
David Rothkopf

UK to US: Resist Eclipse of the West

Financial Times

The days when the UK and US invaded countries to engage in nation building are over. In a foreign policy speech to congressional Republicans in Philadelphia, Theresa May said the decline of the West was not inevitable: "We — our two countries together — have a joint responsibility to lead. Because when others step up as we step back, it is bad for America, for Britain and the world."

Beware of the Donald

Voice of the Mirror

Theresa May needs to be on her guard today as the first world leader to meet Donald Trump in Washington. She needs to tread a fine line between maintaining our relationship with an ally and establishing lines of communication with a volatile Trump, while staying true to British values of fairness and decency.

2017 January 26

Australia Day


Australia Day marks the arrival of the First Fleet into Sydney Cove in 1788, a date mourned by many indigenous people.

Indigenous Advisory Council chairman Warren Mundine: "We see it as Invasion Day. The 26th of January is the day that the British came to invade, which led to massacres, the loss of land and the destruction of Aboriginal societies."

AR Royal Navy Captain James Cook claimed Australia for Britain in 1770. I am descended from him on my mother's side.

America First

Daniel Finkelstein

The America First Committee was founded in 1940. The five young men behind it built a movement more than 850,000 strong, with branches all over the country. The movement made life hard for President Franklin Roosevelt until the Pearl Harbor attack put an end to it.

The man who revived it was Pat Buchanan, former adviser to Presidents Nixon and Reagan. In 1992, he launched his own protectionist, isolationist, moralist version of America First and sought the Republican nomination as presidential candidate but was rejected.

In 2000, Buchanan ran for the Reform Party. Donald Trump had also sought the nomination, but he quit the party over Buchanan: "He's a Hitler-lover; I guess he is an antisemite. He doesn't like the blacks, he doesn't like the gays ... That's not company I want to keep."

The original America First campaigners said America cannot be the world's policeman. Trump on Inauguration Day 2017: "From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it's going to be only America first, America first."

AR Women and children first (when the ship goes down)

2017 January 25

Mind and World

An Edge Conversation

David Chalmers —

Artificial intelligence is an artificial mind. Virtual reality is an artificial world. Thinking about AI and VR can shed light on deep philosophical issues.

Virtual reality is a technology for creating and interacting with artificial worlds. When one inhabits a virtual reality one is interacting with a genuine digital reality. We perceive virtual objects, and those objects really exist.

If it turns out we are living in a digital virtual reality, we should not say that none of the stuff around us exists. We should say we are living in a world where everything is grounded in information. The hypothesis that physics might be grounded in the interplay of information does not make reality some kind of illusion.

Virtual objects have certain possibilities for motion and interaction, and this grounds a sort of space that they inhabit. This is not the same as nonvirtual space, but it is a genuine sort of space. What matters for a physical world is the pattern of interactions.

You can see the hypothesis that we live in a simulation as a version of the multiverse idea. Our universe would be a local universe that is a simulation, and perhaps its creator made other simulations with different parameters to watch them run and see what happens. Some people have even proposed that we should be forming religions around the idea that our simulator is our god.

Augmented reality technology lets you see not only the physical world, but also virtual objects and entities that you perceive in the middle of them. Everything is going to be in our AR glasses, and AI will start to become an extension of my mind. This mixing of the natural, the physical, and the artificial both on the side of the mind and on the side of the world is in our future.

Sean Carroll —

A virtual world is just as real as a physical world. Virtual worlds are simply different ways of organizing and talking about the world. Modern physics helps underwrite this view.

In quantum mechanics, the world is described by a quantum state. Anything above and beyond that is just a convenient way of talking, an emergent approximation applicable in a certain regime. A single quantum state may be interpreted as representing very different things.

Informatic concepts bring the world to life. Perhaps spacetime emerges out of the mutual information and entanglement between different quantum degrees of freedom. Information is physical.

Thomas Metzinger —

Conceptually, the four central conditions for any artificial system to become capable of suffering are consciousness, a self-model, negative subjective preferences, and transparency. Synthetic phenomenology may sound like a long shot today, but so did synthetic biology two decades ago.

Avatars will become more and more intelligent. We will soon use them as flexible anthropomorphic interfaces to communicate with AI systems. When AI becomes integrated with VR, avatars will become like models of selves.

AR On avatars, see chapter 0000 of my 2010 book G.O.D. Is Great. On AR glasses, see chapter 0001. On VR, see chapters 0010 and 1011. The book has 16 chapters, from 0000 to 1111, and I gave David and Thomas copies in 2010.

2017 January 24

The Battle for Europe

Der Spiegel

Donald Trump wants to divide and conquer the European Union for America. His only goal is US profitability, and he sees global trade as a brutal fight for survival. Emissaries from Berlin are trying to build contacts with his team.

In a March 1990 Playboy magazine interview Trump cited Japan and West Germany: "Their products are better because they have so much subsidy ... Our 'allies' are making billions screwing us ... I'd throw a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country and on all Japanese products."

The Trump team looked at statistics showing which countries export more to the US than they import. In first place is China, followed by Japan and then Germany. Trump sees the EU as an alliance aimed at weakening the US economy.

The United States is the biggest export market for Germany. In 2015, Germany delivered goods worth €114 billion to the US, whereas the US only exported goods worth around €60 billion to Germany. Worldwide, German goods exports came to €1.2 trillion but imports to €1 trillion.

German carmakers built factories in America. BMW, Daimler Benz, and Volkswagen did so in US states, then Mexico lured them south with low wages and free access to the US market by way of NAFTA. Now Audi, BMW, Daimler Benz, and Volkswagen makes vehicles in Mexico.

Angela Merkel desperately needs a plan for how to react to the Trump presidency. German export strength is key to the EZ economy, but it is also a target for US protectionist rhetoric. Germans need to stand up to Trump.

2017 January 23

The Origin of Life

Natalie Wolchover

Scientists in Germany have discovered how liquid droplets may have evolved into living cells. David Zwicker and collaborators in Dresden studied chemically active droplets and discovered that they tend to grow to some size and divide, just like living cells.

The researchers are now studying the growth and division of active droplets made of synthetic polymers modeled after the droplets found in living cells. After that, they hope to observe biological droplets dividing in the same way.

Zwicker modeled centrosomes as chemically active droplets, continuously cycling constituent proteins into and out of the surrounding liquid cytoplasm. This chemical flux balances when an active droplet reaches some volume, and the droplet stops growing. Typical droplets grow to that size, elongate and pinch in at the middle, and split into a pair of droplets, which then grow to the same size.

Protocell droplets could have acquired membranes. Droplets naturally collect crusts of lipids at their interface with the surrounding liquid, and the crusts could evolve into membranes. A stroke of luck formed the first droplet.

AR This is another welcome but small step in filling out the story.

Hard Brexit Could Damage EU

Wolfgang Münchau

Brexit could end up permanently damaging the EU. Three effects of a sudden Brexit:

1 The eurozone remains dependent on the City of London for financial services. There would be a bigger risk of a financial crisis in the EU than in the UK. There is a potential for blackmail here.

2 Britain has a smaller weight in EZ trade than the eurozone has in UK trade. But manufacturing supply chains work in both directions. A sudden break could disrupt production everywhere.

3 The UK is a member of the UN Security Council, the G20, and the G7. If EU countries want to fight tax avoidance by multinational companies, manage globalization in a fairer way, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or come up with policies to combat terrorism, they will need the UK. 

A hard Brexit would push Britain toward becoming another tax haven — a threat to the EU.

AR Hard Brexit would be a declaration of economic war. Mutual assured destruction could follow.

2017 January 22

UK Nuke Malfunction

The Times

The UK government covered up a nuclear deterrent malfunction in June last year during a Trident II D5 missile test launch from the Royal Navy submarine HMS Vengeance at sea off Florida.

The cause of the failure remains top secret but the missile apparently shot off in the wrong direction toward America after launch.

A source: "Downing Street decided to cover up the failed test. If the information was made public, they knew how damaging it would be to the credibility of our nuclear deterrent."

A Trident expert said that if the launch had not been a test and the missile had been armed, the result could have been "collateral damage on steroids".

AR Imagine the headline — "Awfully sorry! We seem to have nuked Washington"

Deutschland erwache!

Die Welt

Donald Trump ist vereidigt, Amerika zieht sich auf sich selbst zurück:

America First = Everybody else last

Umso wichtiger ist, dass die Deutschen diesen "wake-up call" ernst nehmen und sich die große Koalition in Berlin schnell erholen.

AR Deutschland, Frankreich und Großbritannien sollten
alle militärisch aufwachen.

2017 January 21

US Foreign Policy

Jessica T. Mathews

Donald Trump has taken all previous US foreign policy and thrown it out the window.

His national security adviser Michael Flynn says the United States is facing an "international alliance of evil countries and movements that is working to destroy us" and it must "energize every element of national power in a cohesive synchronized manner — similar to the effort during World War II" to fight this new global war.

Flynn says the goal of US policy should be regime change in Iran. He says the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were fought in a "half-assed" manner with "token" forces and without the resolution "to crush our enemies" in the war against radical Islam.

Johns Hopkins University professor of strategic studies Eliot Cohen cites the Ledeen Doctrine: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."

Cohen says recovery of American credibility "will probably occur only when the United States actually does something to someone — wiping out a flotilla of Iranian gunboats," for example. He was among the first to advocate invading Iraq and Iran as part of World War IV: "The heart of Iran's emerging military potential lies in its nuclear program."

Cohen believes China is America's greatest threat. He sees a Chinese desire to establish hegemony in east Asia and calls Chinese actions in the South and East China Seas a potential trigger of global war. He argues for a substantially larger US military.

Trump thinks America does too much in the world and cares too much about others. He thinks money spent to strengthen other nations is wasted. Some of this is surely posturing.

AR Even as posturing it looks bad.

Donald Trump

"God bless America"
President Trump

Philip Hammond
Credit: Toby Melville
Philip Hammond

Bikers for Trump
Credit: Marvin Joseph
Bikers for Trump will
"form a wall of meat"
against protesters
at the Trump

USAF B-2 Spirit

Theresa May

No Joy

Germany and France will
not reward the UK for leaving
the EU and abandoning the
dream of European
 harmony and

Sterling rises
above $1.23

Trump Doomed

By the end of the week,
Donald Trump will be POTUS.
He will have his moment,
for sure. But when things go
wrong he will be chased
from office.


2017 January 20

Brexit — Blame Blair

The Times

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the decision by Tony Blair to keep UK borders open in 2004 fuelled the anti-immigration feeling that led to the Brexit vote:

"There was a strong strand of feeling against uncontrolled migration and I lay the responsibility for that squarely at the door of prime minister Blair, who failed to impose a transitional regime in the UK in 2004. That created a public perception which we still haven't shaken off to this day."

Unlike other EU leaders, Blair waived the UK right to impose transitional controls on the free movement of citizens when eight eastern European countries joined the EU in 2004.

AR Hmm — a new idea but an interesting one.

Populism — Fool's Paradise

The Times

Philip Hammond called populism a fool's paradise in a speech at Davos:

"Politicians who take the populist route will find it a very short road. There is no sustainable future for a developed economy in protectionism, subsidy, and high debt ... Populism is a fool's paradise. I hope I have already demonstrated that I welcome suggestions from business and will act on them where I can."

AR I say Hammond for PM if May falters.

Energy — New Look


Former Texas governor Rick Perry once famously forgot that the Energy Department was on the list of US government agencies he'd like to shut down. Now he asks senators to approve his leading it:

"My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking. In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination."

AR I bet he hadn't realized its main job is making nuclear bombs!

Being — Alone Or Not Alone

Adam Mars-Jones

Science fiction is doomed to profundity, unable to avoid philosophical dilemmas. Existentialism is always likely to appear when the theme is either our aloneness in the universe or the encounter with the other. Being alone or not alone — that is a question.

Passengers shows engineer Jim Preston woken from suspended animation nearly a century ahead of schedule on interstellar cruise liner Avalon heading for a colony planet. As the only wakeful person in a world of sleepers, he finds he is living a nightmare.

Jim comes across a working bar aboard the Avalon, whose android bartender is programmed to engage in convincing banter and philosophizing. Jim then gazes at the hibernating journalist Aurora Lane, a Sleeping Beauty played by Jennifer Lawrence. And so on.

Arrival is different: the alien visitors may be bringing a message but at first what they offer is a written language. The language is delicate, sharing with Chinese the ability to hold elements in poetic tension as well as an affinity with Japanese brush painting.

AR See my review of the same movies (blog 2016-12-27).

2017 January 19

French Presidential Election


The election is in two rounds, the first on April 23, the second on May 7. The campaign has not yet started and the final slate of candidates is still unknown.

1 François Fillon

France 24 — Frontrunner François Fillon vowed to take back control of immigration, in part by imposing quotas on non-EU nationals: "France is generous, but it is not a mosaic and a territory without limits. It is one nation that has a right to choose who can join it and a right that foreigners accept its rules and customs."

2 Marine Le Pen

Paris Match — FN candidate Marine Le Pen has launched her campaign: "I had ants in my paws! ... François Fillon shows great firmness, but he is entangled in a brutal program that he does not assume ... Since his victory in November, the deputy of Paris has been as tetanized, lying on the ball." (Google translation)

Le Pen was seen last week in Trump Tower. She was in New York on a private trip.

3 Emmanuel Macron

Robert Zaretsky — Emmanuel Macron, 39, has been a philosophy student, an investment banker, and a French government economic minister. As an independent candidate for the presidency, he may be the best bet for a European future based on a common market and a common morality, a single currency and a singular commitment to the EU core values.

Macron is convinced that the French and the Germans can still be rallied to the European project. He praises Merkel on her refugee policy and warns that the euro will be saved only if the European Union acts like a truly sovereign body.

Anne-Sylvaine Chassany — Emmanuel Macron is the third man in the race, behind Marine Le Pen and François Fillon in polls. Macron, an École nationale d'administration (ENA) graduate and a former Rothschild banker, became popular after taking on the left and deregulating the economy. Now he has created his own party, En Marche!

2017 January 18


Xi Jinping

The problems troubling the world are not caused by globalization.

Countries should view their own interest in the broader context and refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others. We should not retreat into the harbor whenever we encounter a storm or we will never reach the opposite shore.

China will keep its doors wide open. We hope that other countries will also keep their doors open to Chinese investors and maintain a level playing field for us.

Defend Globorg

Joe Biden

Our careful attention to building and sustaining the international world order, with the US and Europe at its core, was the bedrock of the success that the world enjoyed in the second half of the 20th century.

Globalization has not been an unalloyed good. I am a free trader and a supporter of globalization, but it has deepened the rift between those racing ahead at the top and those struggling to hang on in the middle, or falling to the bottom.

Popular movements on both the left and the right have demonstrated a dangerous willingness to revert to political small-mindedness — to the same nationalist, protectionist, and isolationist agendas that led the world to consume itself in war during the last century.

The impulse to hunker down, shut the gates, build walls, and exit at this moment is precisely the wrong answer.


Ivan Krastev

Meritocracy is a system in which the most talented and capable, the best educated, those who score highest on the tests, are put in leading positions. From the start it was clear that a meritocratic society would be a disaster. It would create a society of selfish and arrogant winners versus angry and desperate losers.

What makes meritocrats so unbearable to their critics is not so much their success but their insistence that they have succeeded because they worked harder than others, because they happened to be more qualified than others, and because they passed the tests that others failed.

In Europe today, the Brussels elites are blamed for their cosmopolitanism, their resistance to public pressure, and their mobility. The European meritocratic elite is like a team of star footballers. When their teams start to lose, their fans abandon them.

People trust leaders who show not only competence but also courage and commitment. They want their leaders to hang on in times of crisis rather than being helicoptered out. People fear that in times of trouble the meritocrats will opt to leave instead of sharing the cost of staying.

The new European populists promise solidarity over justice. They promise to nationalize the elites, not to save the people but to stay with them, to rebuild the walls removed by globalization. Many Europeans find this promise appealing.

John Rawls argued that being a loser in a meritocratic society was not as painful as being a loser in an openly unjust society. He said the fairness of the game would reconcile people with failure. He may have been wrong.

AR Recall Heidegger's appeal to the Volk community in his defense of National Socialism against a cosmopolitan Jewish elite.

2017 January 17

May Day

The Times

UK prime minister Theresa May: "We seek a new and equal partnership between an independent, self-governing, global Britain and our friends and allies in the EU. Not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out. We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave. The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union."

A Global Britain

Theresa May

I want to outline our objectives for the negotiation ahead:

1 We will provide certainty wherever we can. We will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament, before it comes into force.

2 We will take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain.

3 We will ensure that as we leave the European Union no new barriers to living and doing business within our own Union are created.

4 The United Kingdom will share a land border with the EU, and maintaining that common travel area with the Republic of Ireland will be an important priority for the UK.

5 We will ensure we can control immigration to Britain from Europe. You cannot control immigration overall when there is free movement to Britain from Europe.

6 We want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states, as early as we can.

7 We will ensure that workers rights are fully protected and maintained. We will make sure legal protection for workers keeps pace with the changing labour market.

8 We will pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union. We do not seek membership of the single market. We seek the greatest possible access to it through a new free trade agreement.

9 We will negotiate our own trade agreements. I want us to have a customs agreement with the EU and I want Britain to be free to establish our own tariff schedules at the WTO.

10 We will welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research, and technology initiatives.

11 We will continue to cooperate with our European partners in important areas such as crime, terrorism, and foreign affairs.

12 We believe a phased process of implementation will give businesses enough time to plan and prepare for those new arrangements.

This is the framework of a deal.

Fake Cheer

Christoph Scheuermann

Theresa May says from the deck of a Royal Navy ship in the Persian Gulf: "I want a red, white and blue Brexit."

She plans to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. Sterling has depreciated significantly since last June and the government is expecting a budget deficit of £122 billion over the next five years. Yet in Westminster a state of strange calm prevails behind a united front of unshakeable optimism.

May is steeling herself for a hard Brexit. This steely resolve is damaging her in the rest of Europe. A clean break is unlikely, and the UK will need the goodwill of other EU states to exit in 2019.

Brexit minister David Davis has no plan and an easygoing approach. A Brexit committee meets behind closed doors and has an equal number of Brexit supporters and opponents. A committee member: "Everyone chips in, the PM sums up and everyone staggers out saying how difficult it is."

Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan is a pioneer of the Brexit movement. He seems to think Brexit is as good for Britain as victory in World War II. He says the EU can either give Britain limited access to the internal market or get a cold, hard Brexit.

Fake Gloom

Wolfgang Münchau

If you have two strong arguments, the surest way to lose a debate is to add a third one. The third argument of our time is a warning of economic doom.

Brexit is terrible because it deprives young Britons of the right to choose where to live, study and work, and it deprives them of a European identity.

Remainers let their campaign be hijacked by a third argument about the loss of the single European passport for banks. It cost them the referendum.

The curse of our time is fake maths, used to peddle a political prejudice. Economic models have better uses. Nobody can see the future.

Fake Fact

Norbert Röttgen

There seems to be a prevailing impression among some people that the European Union will soon fall apart, that after the UK others will go too. That is a false picture of the EU and of what it offers.

Trump On Europe

Krishnadev Calamur

Donald Trump supports Brexit: "People, countries want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity but, I do believe this, if they hadn't been forced to take in all of the refugees ..."

German chancellor Angela Merkel came in for special mention for her refugee policy: "I think it was a big mistake for Germany."

US secretary of state John Kerry: "I thought frankly it was inappropriate for a president elect of the United States to be stepping into the politics of other countries in a quite direct manner."

BMW plans to open a facility in Mexico in 2019. Trump: "I would tell BMW if they think they're gonna build a plant in Mexico and sell cars into the US without a 35% tax, it's not gonna happen ..."

German deputy chancellor Sigmar Gabriel: "The US car industry would have a bad awakening if all the supply parts that aren't being built in the US were to suddenly come with a 35% tariff."

Trump said the car trade was unfair because on Fifth Avenue everyone has a Mercedes-Benz. Gabriel: "Build better cars."

AR Progress iff global supply chains iff free trade iff no tariff wars.

Donald Trump
Photo: Daniel Biskup
Donald Trump

Rex Tillerson calls the Russian
annexation of Crimea illegal,
says the United States should
have provided more aid to
Ukraine, supports NATO, and
assumes Putin knew of any
cyberattacks against the
United States.

Pounds falls
below $1.20

Jared and Ivanka
Jared and Ivanka

Chinese work on Mischief Reef,
Spratly Islands

Sino Defense
Chinese DF-21D carrier killer

Scientific American
The happy couple: The key
to keeping the magic alive is finding ways to promote
the positive

John Kerry

If policy is going to be made
in 140 characters on Twitter,
and every reasonable measure
of accountability is being bypassed, and people
don't care about it,
we have a problem.

Tabby's Star Ate Planet

Tabby's star KIC 8462852
showed a series of big dips
in brightness after dimming
by 14% in 100 years. Now a
Columbia team explain all.
They say the star devoured
a planet in the past, so it
brightened and dimmed again.
Every time the debris passes
between us and the star,
the image blinks.

AR Blog 2016-01-17

Derek Parfit

Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit
was a fellow at All Souls. Until
his death on 1 January, he was widely regarded as the most
important living moral
philosopher, partly for his work
on personal identity: We are psychological bundles of
memories, inclinations, and
intentions. In the future, bundles
will go by my name, share many
of my memories, and act on
some of my intentions. The
boundaries dissolve.

AR I met him at seminars.

Leopard A7V


2017 January 16

Trump Talk

Michael Gove

When we talked last Friday, Donald Trump had nothing but kind words and generous sentiments for a nation he believes will be his strongest ally.

On the UK: "I think Brexit is going to end up being a great thing ... I'm a big fan of the UK, we're gonna work very hard to get [a new trade deal] done quickly and done properly."

On the EU: "People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity ... if they hadn't been forced to take in all of the refugees ... I think that you wouldn't have a Brexit."

On Germany: "You look at the European Union and it's Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That's why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out."

On NATO: "I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago. Number two the countries aren't paying what they're supposed to pay ... With that being said, NATO is very important to me."

On Russia: "Let's see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that's part of it. But Russia's hurting very badly right now because of sanctions."

Trump has no intention of abandoning Twitter because he believes it gives him a direct connection to the American people.

Trump: "Ich mag Stärke. Ich mag Ordnung."

Erstmals erklärt ein angehender US-Präsident offen und ohne Rücksicht, was er über Deutschland und Europa denkt.


2017 January 15

Adam and Eve

Anushay Hossain

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are getting ready for the new US administration. They have stepped down from their respective businesses in preparation for their roles in Washington. The two are set to become the most powerful couple in Washington.

In August, Ivanka got her father to unveil policy proposals to lower child care costs. In December she called members of Congress about child care legislation and tax deductions. Her expected work on climate change was also widely noted in the press.

Jared Kushner may have won the presidency for Donald Trump. He is expected to be the presidential policy person on the Mideast. Trump even says he believes Kushner could broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Ivanka and Jared are perfectly positioned to become the powers behind the throne. Melania and Donald Trump are adamant on spending as little time in Washington as possible, so Ivanka and Jared will effectively be the de facto first couple. They almost make you forget that the Donald is about to become president.

AR First couple — would you "Adam and Eve" [believe] it.


Catarina Dutilh Novaes + AR

In Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1781), Immanuel Kant stated that no progress in logic had been made since Aristotle. Today we see three golden periods for logic: the ancient Greek period, the medieval scholastic period, and the mathematical period of the last two hundred years. Kant had disregarded the scholastic tradition.

In the classical Greek period, Plato wrote dialogues and Aristotle discussed techniques useful in debating. The prominence of dialectics continued through late antiquity. By the Latin medieval period, this led to the emergence of scholastic disputation, which continued to Summa Theologica (1265-1274) by Thomas Aquinas.

After Kant, logic turned toward mathematics. In 1847, George Boole inaugurated a new approach. He launched algebraic logic and pushed the idea of using mathematical symbolism in logic.

Gottlob Frege was inspired by Kant and by Gottfried Leibniz. He aimed to provide mathematics with logical foundations. He used the mathematical notion of a function to represent predicate logic and devised a new logical notation in his book Begriffsschrift (1879).

Frege saw that not only the axioms but also the rules of inference required a rigorous reformulation. His work established the idea that ordinary language is expressively inadequate to account for mathematical or logical reasoning. Parallel projects for axiomatizing parts of mathematics were led by other distinguished mathematicians.

Unfortunately, Bertrand Russell discovered a paradox lurking in the foundations of Frege's system. The goal of recovering and further developing his program led Russell and his collaborator Alfred North Whitehead to develop the system presented in their Principia Mathematica (1910–13). Much of the work in logic in the last century grew from their work.

Logic has become a foundational branch of mathematics. The change reflects the fall from grace of scholastic disputation. Only traces of the dialectical origins of logic persist in recent developments in mathematics.

AR My trilogy Dialectical Logic (1975, 1977, 1979) modeled mathematics in a dialectic defined in set theory — each layer of the cumulative hierarchy was a metatheory for the previous layers conceived as steps in an epistemo-ontic dynamic inspired by the Hegelian dialectic. Essentially, Hegel wrapped up all of scholastic logic in a discursive form that defied further progress, forcing Frege to make a new start in mathematics. I found the thread of continuity and rescued the dynamic that prevents logic from freezing in an illusory absolutism (in fact Gödel had already done so — I built on his work). See my 2014 essay The Answer.

2017 January 14


Arif Ahmed
Dorset Humanists, Moordown Community Centre, Bournemouth

AR Cambridge philosopher Ahmed presented an individualist political philosophy (based on the views of John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and Friedrich Hayek) that would abandon much of the power of the state as we now understand it. I raised objections from the floor, citing the 2008 financial crisis, the rise of Donald Trump, and the critique of rationality due to Daniel Kahneman.


Simon Kuper

English-speaking countries are easier to hack because their enemies understand what they are saying. Being an English-speaking society makes you transparent, whereas foreign countries are opaque to mostly monolingual Britons and Americans.

Chinese and Russian elites sent their children to study in the US and UK. From 1990 to about 2010, Anglo-American media and films gained huge global influence. And most AAs stopped bothering to learn foreign languages.

The new weapon is cyber warfare. But hacking foreign files is worthwhile only if you can use the information. Russia and China can read English documents and foreigners can make up fake news in English.

Britain has its own problems with English. Westminster and the tabloid newspapers are almost entirely monolingual. Brits therefore voted for Brexit blithely unaware of how other European countries would respond.

The UK Foreign Office has been sidelined ahead of the Brexit negotiations. The boss of the new department for exiting the EU, David Davis, says the Germans will give the UK a good deal because they sell cars in Britain. His European counterparts understand Britain rather better.

AR Stellen Sie sich vor, Sie überhören ein Gespräch:
      Angela Merkel: Halten Sie durch — Ordnung muß sein!
      Auto-Hersteller: Jawohl, Frau Bundeskanzlerin!


2017 January 13

China to US: Keep Out

Global Times

Nominee for US secretary of state Rex Tillerson uttered astonishing statements during his confirmation hearing with the Senate. He had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories.

South China Sea countries will accelerate their negotiations on a Code of Conduct. They have the ability to solve divergences by themselves without US interference.

US to China: Threat

The Times

PEOTUS pick for US SOS Rex Tillerson compares Chinese fortification of its manmade islands in the South China Sea to Russian annexation of Crimea and threatens a major confrontation.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has backed up its position by expanding small islets and building airstrips and harbors.

China foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang: "We hope non-regional countries can respect this consensus that is in the fundamental interest of the whole world."

Tillerson: "This is a threat to the entire global economy if China is allowed to somehow dictate the terms of passage through these waters."

China warns that "no effort to internationalize and judicialize the South China Sea issue will be of any avail" and will only make it harder to resolve the issue.

US Air Power


The US Marine Corps is sending 16 F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters to Japan. At over $100 million each, the jets showcase US "commitment to the defense of Japan with the most capable and modern equipment in the US inventory," says the USMC. "It will be the cornerstone of a multi-mission joint force possessing improved mission flexibility and unprecedented effectiveness to engage and destroy both air and ground threats."

China: Sea Power

Financial Times

President Xi Jinping will turn China into a maritime superpower. One Belt One Road is his plan to boost investment and commerce in over 60 countries in Asia, the Mideast, Africa, and Europe.

Since 2010, Chinese and Hong Kong companies have completed or announced deals involving at least 40 port projects worth a total of over $45 billion. The Pakistani port of Gwadar is owned, financed, and built by China as the core element in a $54 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

In 2015, the five big Chinese cargo carriers together controlled almost a fifth of all container shipping handled by the global top 20 companies. By then, nearly two-thirds of the top 50 container ports worldwide had some Chinese investment, handling over two-thirds of global container volumes.

Chinese port operators are world leaders and Chinese shipping companies carry more cargo than those of any other nation. In Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Greece, and Djibouti, Chinese investment in civilian ports has been followed by navy deployments or visits or construction of a naval base.

China aims to deny US aircraft carrier battle groups access to the seas within a string of archipelagos from Japan to Vietnam — the first island chain.

AR China aims to keep US carrier groups outside the first island chain with its DF-21D missiles (blog 2010-12-29).

2017 January 12

US Intelligence

Financial Times

By blaming them for leaking a dossier on efforts by the Kremlin to cultivate and compromise him, Donald Trump has declared war on US intelligence officials.

The Trump tweet and press conference took aim at the BuzzFeed release of a 35-page dossier that carries unverified allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and the Kremlin. Trump calls the entire dossier false.

Former NSA lawyer Susan Hennessey says the tweet "reads as if Trump is trying to deflect focus from these devastating, though unverified allegations, by attempting additional smears vilifying intelligence professionals."

Trump Nailed It

Timothy Stanley

Trump has two big priorities: building the wall and repealing and replacing Obamacare. He compared the behavior of some within the intelligence community to Nazis. He signaled that speculation on his relationship with Vladimir Putin will not shift his position toward Russia. And he concluded that Russia was probably guilty of hacking, but that will cease once Trump is in charge.

Trainwreck Press Conference

Richard Wolffe

The Trump presidency is already in shambles. Team Trump seems happy to shine a bright light on its own monumental mistakes. The president-elect celebrated the Russian hacking of the DNC and all those leaked emails. Now he even brags about his Russian connection: "If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks, that is called an asset, not a liability. Do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Give me a break."

2017 January 11

Farewell Address

Barack Obama

After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. ... For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all.

We weaken those ties when we allow our political dialog to become so corrosive that people of good character aren't even willing to enter into public service, so coarse with rancor that we see Americans with whom we disagree as not just misguided but as malevolent.

We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others, when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.

AR He always set a good tone.

White House Advice

The New York Times

Jared Kushner will become a senior White House adviser to his father-in-law, Donald Trump. Kushner, 35, married Ivanka Trump in 2009. Some ethics experts question whether his appointment is legal under federal anti-nepotism laws.

Transition staff members describe Kushner as the first among equals in the Trump high command. He is said to have a calming effect on his father-in-law. He became the de facto campaign manager in the spring and his influence expanded rapidly.

Kushner is an orthodox Jew, a Harvard graduate, and a lifelong Democrat. Liberals greeted his appointment with relief. He will resign as chief executive of Kushner Companies and divest himself of assets including 666 Fifth Avenue and his holdings in The New York Observer.

AR So far so good ...

Family First

Caroline Crampton

Jared Kushner is the son of real estate developer and Democratic party donor Charles Kushner. Charles made a $2.5 million donation to Harvard University in 1998. Jared was accepted there in 1999 and earned a degree in sociology in 2003.

While at Harvard, Jared made money buying and selling buildings, supported by the family fortune. His net worth is estimated at $200 million. At age 25, he bought the New York Observer for $10 million.

In 2005, Charles Kushner was convicted on 18 counts of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering. He served time in a federal prison.

Jared practises Orthodox Judaism, and Ivanka Trump* converted before they wed in 2009. His grandparents escaped the Nazis, and his grandmother Rae was a founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

  *Ivanka Trump was born in 1981 as the daughter of Donald and Ivana Trump**. She graduated
    in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 2004, then joined the family business.

  **Ivana Trump was born in Czechoslovakia and moved to Canada, where she worked as a model.
    She then moved to New York, married Donald Trump in 1977, and divorced him in 1992.

In October 2016, The New York Observer asked its proprietor a question: Hillary or Donald? Jared: "Family first."

AR A new twist on the first family.

2017 January 10

America First

Philip Stephens

Once Donald Trump is inaugurated as POTUS, the United States will make its own rules. Trump aims to repudiate TPP, renegotiate NAFTA, and impose hefty duties on Chinese imports. Yet he is happy to side with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Trump wants to make America great again. His ideas are a jumble of economic nationalism, antipathy to globalism, hostility to immigrants, hatred of Islamist extremism, and a dim view of great power relations. He disdains NATO and equivocates with East Asian allies.

Trump has promised to renounce US climate obligations. He could strike a deal with Putin over the heads of Europe, disavow the nuclear agreement with Iran, build a wall against Mexican immigrants, and shut the US border to Muslims. All this is isolationist swagger.

US allies have already concluded that Trump is neither predictable nor reliable. China is determined to translate its economic power into geopolitical clout despite provocative tweets. And Putin doubtless thinks he will get the better of Trump.

Detaching US national interests from its international commitments is impossible. Economic interdependence cannot be wished away and military might has its limits. The new president will find most of his goals out of reach to America Alone.

2017 January 9


Sky News

UK prime minister Theresa May: "Often people talk in terms as if somehow we are leaving the EU but we still want to kind of keep bits of membership of the EU. We are leaving. We are coming out. We are not going to be a member of the EU any longer. We will be able to have control of our borders, control of our laws."

Four Fails


On January 20, Donald Trump takes the oath of office and becomes the POTUS. For the first time in his life, he will be employed outside his family business. At age 70, he will become accountable to the American people.

Trump has never had to reboot himself in anything like the manner now required. But when his companies ran out of money to pay their lenders and filed for bankruptcy in 1991, 1992, 2004 and 2009, he had to accept the strict terms and oversight required by bankruptcy agreements.

Six Strikes


Hillary Clinton said Donald Trump wrote a lot of books about business: "They all seem to end at Chapter 11. He bankrupted his companies, not once, not twice, but four times."

Wrong: Trump actually has six bankruptcies.


New Scientist

Researchers hacked ion channels to alter bioelectric signaling in tadpoles engineered to develop cancer. They reduced the incidence of tumor formation and made tumor cells return to a healthy state.

Researchers increased the bioelectric traffic between cells in froglets past the age at which they can regenerate full limbs and made them do so anyway.

Humans have regenerative capabilities too.

2017 January 8

Die Deutschen

Die Welt

Deutschland bedeutet für die Deutschen nicht mehr eine Frage ihrer politischen Identität. Heute geht es um die Frage nach dem kulturellen Kern.

Was es heute heißt, deutsch zu sein — darüber können sich die Deutschen, die mit einer furchtbaren Geschichte, einer rauen Zuwanderungsgegenwart und einem schwer angekratzten Ego konfrontiert sind, am ehesten noch im Ausland informieren.

In den Augen vieler Beobachter ist das deutsche Problem die Gründlichkeit, mit der viele Deutsche die Migranten zur endgültigen Säuberung der befleckten Nationalhistorie und zur Umerziehung der eigenen Bevölkerung nutzen wollen.

Da schlägt die Verleugnung allen Deutschseins in einen Chauvinismus der Vaterlandslosigkeit um. Schwer ist es, anderen Europäern die Abgründe solch moralischen Großreinemachens zu erklären.

Vielleicht wenn die Deutschen sich selbst sympathischer wären und sie sich zugleich weniger ernst nähmen, dann wäre nicht nur den Deutschen, sondern auch unseren Nachbarn gleich viel wohler mit diesem sonderbaren Gebilde.

AR Als Europäer sind die Deutschen bestens aufgenommen, die Briten eher mürrisch.

Tank Trouble

The Times

Britain turned down the chance to buy a fleet of second-hand German tanks. Leopard manufacturer KMW offered to sell 100 to 400 old Leopard 2 tanks to the Ministry of Defence in 2015. They would have been upgraded to new A7V standard.

The UK government has instead selected two other companies — BAE Systems and Rheinmetall — as the final bidders for the Challenger 2 upgrade contract.

Defense industry source: "They made that offer to us and we should have taken it but there was an arrogance: we invented the tank, we have to have a British tank."

But the idea is not yet dead: "If it turns out that buying second-hand would work out cheaper overall then finance is king. If it is cheaper they will go that way."

AR Buy Leopards. Our NATO boys on the Eastern Front will need standard kit.

US Army Abrams tanks

US Army Abrams tanks on NATO maneuvers in Latvia, summer 2016.
A shipload of Abrams tanks was unloaded Friday in Bremerhaven for
forward deployment in Poland as part of operation Atlantic Resolve.

President Trump could
launch 140 warheads
in the time it takes to
write 140 characters

Fw 190
Wings Over Illawarra
Australian Focke-Wulf Fw 190
(Werk-Nr. 173056) to fly at
Wings Over Illawarra Air Show
2017-05-06 — 2017-05-07

Orion on SLS
Orion on SLS

Ryan Beauchemin

Arnie for Prez!

Celebrity Apprentice made
Donald Trump a reality TV star.
The new 2017 season stars
Arnold Schwarzenegger.

AR But he was born
in Austria.

Polizei-Tweet: Ist
"Nafri" entmenschlichend?
— fragt Grüfri (Grün-

T.J. Drysdale


Heidegger again


2017 January 7

Baltic Blues


The Baltic states are in the EU and NATO but Russia is boosting its military presence in Kaliningrad. Estonian foreign minister Sven Mikser: "We have always seen the US as our strongest ally. US participation has given NATO its credibility."

AR Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Quantum Questions

Steven Weinberg

Physicists are at odds about measurement in quantum mechanics.

Suppose you measure the spin of an electron in an arbitrarily chosen direction. There are only two possible results, namely plus or minus a certain number, up or down, corresponding to an electron that is spinning either clockwise or counter-clockwise in the chosen direction. Before you measure it, the spin is a superposition of up and down, each with its own amplitude. The act of measuring the spin somehow collapses the superposition to up or down.

If we disregard everything about an electron but its spin, its wave function is a pair of amplitudes, one number for each sign of the spin in any chosen direction. The wave function of an electron whose spin has not been measured generally has nonzero values for spins of both signs. The probabilities of finding either up or down for the spin in a chosen direction are proportional to the squares of the amplitudes in that direction.

A measurement puts the spin in an interaction with a macroscopic environment that causes the superposition of states in the wave function to collapse to one state, unpredictably. But the Schrödinger equation is deterministic. Given the wave function at any moment, the equation will tell you precisely what the wave function will be at any future time.

The realist approach to quantum mechanics implies a multiverse. When you measure the spin of an electron in some direction, the wave function of the electron and your measuring apparatus becomes a superposition of two terms, in one of which the electron spin is up and you see it is up, and in the other of which the spin is down and you see it is down. The history of the world splits every time a big body becomes entangled with a superposition of states. The set of all histories is the multiverse, and its wave function evolves deterministically.

An entangled state involves correlations between parts of the system. Suppose we have a pair of electrons whose total spin in any direction is zero and whose wave function (ignoring everything but spin) is a sum of two terms: in one term, electron A is up and electron B is down in some direction, while in the other term up and down are reversed. The spins are entangled, and this entangled state can persist even if the electrons fly apart to a great distance.

All data so far agree with ordinary quantum mechanics.

AR My suggested approach (2006): Each of us lives in a phenomenal world with its own bubble of spacetime, which is growing in qubit increments. At any moment of phenomenal now, our reality is bounded by our past light cone. Whenever we collapse an entanglement, we pop out spacetime by another qubit (or more, depending on the granularity of quantized spacetime). Entangled states are local until we collapse or pop them. Decoherence is the phenomenal manifestation of popping qubits, and corresponds to spontaneous symmetry breaking at the Planck scale. The Everett multiverse replaces the Einstein block universe as background for all our phenomenal worlds.

My proximal inspiration for this epiphany was the book Quo Vadis Quantum Mechanics? (ed. Elitzur et al., Springer 2005). This is the sort of vision I was hoping for in Richard Muller's 2016 book Now — but I was disappointed. Sadly, I lack the mathematical skill to work out the technical details in a LaTeX preprint for arXiv.

2017 January 6


Martin Wolf

We are living at the end of the era of US hegemony.

It has been a huge overall success. Global average real incomes per head rose by 460% between 1950 and 2015. The proportion of the global population in extreme poverty has fallen from 72% in 1950 to 10% in 2015, and life expectancy at birth has risen from 48 years in 1950 to 71 in 2015.

Despite a generation of relative economic decline, the US, the EU, and Japan still produce over half of global output measured at market prices and over a third measured at PPP. They host the biggest global companies, dominant financial markets, leading universities, and strongest cultures. The US military will remain global top dog for decades.

But across the West, slow growth and aging populations have taken their toll. Politicians can longer promise more for everybody and have to take from some to give to others. The winners have been the rich, making those in the middle and lower incomes more fearful and more prone to racism and xenophobia.

If the West fails, China might find greatness thrust upon it.

AR Hegel conceived global history as the steady march of the Weltgeist through the millennia from China to India to the Mideast and Mediterranean to Europe and then to America. Now we see the Weltgeist complete its world tour and start a new orbit from China.


The Guardian

A man born in London to German parents has been told he cannot get a British passport unless he takes a UK citizenship test. Dom Wolf, 32, said his parents came to Britain in 1974 when his mother started work as an LSE lecturer. He has now been told he needs to prove they were in the UK legally — yet they moved under EU law.

AR Makes me feel like doing a personal Brexit.

2017 January 5

Moon or Mars?

David Brown

European Space Agency director general Jan Woerner says a lunar village is the natural successor to the ISS. The United States is the obvious partner to fund and spearhead such an effort. But to land humans on the Moon, let alone build a village, will take a program as big as Apollo.

A Moon base lets you dig mines and make money. The Moon is only a few days away from Earth and it has lots of helium 3. The isotope is rare on Earth but the Moon has collected it for billions of years. There is an estimated 1.1 Tg of He 3 on the moon, and just 40 Mg of He 3 in fusion reactors could power the United States for a year.

NASA is focused on its Journey to Mars program. But it will use the space between the Earth and the Moon to test life support and propulsion systems for any Mars expedition. The Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft, holdovers from the Mars space exploration initiative canceled in 2009, are ready for moonshots.

Americans cannot afford both a Moon base and a Mars colony. Building either is the cheap part — the operational costs are what add up. A Moon base delays Mars until after the lunar base design, construction, operations, maintenance, and divestment. That could take decades.

AR I say go for the Moon base for now. It will ripen the tech we need for Mars. A Moon base was part of the plot in my 1996 novel LIFEBALL.

Magnetar Located?


The sporadically repeating fast radio burst FRB121102 with duration 3 ms has been traced to the dwarf galaxy PGC1000714 some 30 Ym away. Cornell University researcher Shami Chatterjee: "We think it may be a magnetar — a newborn neutron star with a huge magnetic field, inside a supernova remnant or a pulsar wind nebula — somehow producing these prodigious pulses."

AR See blog 2016-03-03. A neutron star signaling us starred in my 1996 novel LIFEBALL.

UK vs EU

Philip Stephens

Britain never really joined the EU. For France, Germany, Italy, and the rest, the union was a political project with emotional roots. For Brits, it was a commercial transaction.

Politicians at Westminster have never quite shaken off the conviction that the enterprise is destined at some point to fail. Each further step toward integration has been greeted with scorn. Even now, many Brexiteers claim to be leaving a sinking ship.

For German leaders especially, the union is a vessel for European values. It is an enterprise that underpins the peace, stability, and democracy of the continent. The EU has a meaning and purpose beyond the export of bottles of fizz and expensive cars.

2017 January 4

EU Defense

Sophia Besch

EU politicians want strategic autonomy in defense, without relying on the United States. But they have long failed to raise collective defense spending. Now Brexit and Trump create new urgency:

Good — Without the UK the EU can at last get moving on its defense plans. To prevent plans for an EU operational headquarters duplicating NATO, the HQ covers only training and civilian operations.

Bad — Brexit will cost the EU one of its two credible military powers. New plans mean little if the EU lacks capabilities and forces, so the EU should try to keep the UK involved in EU military affairs.

Ugly — The Trump presidency will likely spur more defense spending by EU states. But the US security guarantee is already weakened. Some EU leaders are concerned about Trump ties to the Kremlin.

AR With weakened US and UK commitments to European security, the EU27 states are vulnerable. They could not resist a serious Russian military push and must temporize with appeasement until new defense plans are in place. If Trump befriends Putin, this is a viable strategy.

The obvious next move is for the UK to boost its commitment to defending EU states in return for EU accepting UK membership of the single market despite a Fortress UK border clampdown. The boost, above the NATO commitment, would include an immediate nuclear guarantee and initial work on a future shared Anglo-French deterrent.


The Times

UK representative to the EU Sir Ivan Rogers quits, citing "ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking" over Brexit from government ministers.


Financial Times

UK prime minister Theresa May is facing fresh claims that her government is turning a deaf ear to news and advice on Brexit it does not want to hear.

Open Britain supporter Peter Mandelson: "Everyone knows that civil servants are being increasingly inhibited in offering objective opinion and advice to ministers."

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg: "I think it is crucial that whoever represents us in Brussels is wholly committed to Brexit."

AR Klartext: Drink the Kool-Aid!

2017 January 3

Scientists: Keep Iran Deal

The New York Times

Dozens of top US scientists wrote to PEOTUS Trump on Monday to urge him not to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal: "We urge you to preserve this critical US strategic asset."

The letter was organized by Richard L. Garwin, who helped design the first hydrogen bomb and has long advised Washington on nuclear weapons and arms control.

Nostalgic Nationalism

Gideon Rachman

Long before Donald Trump vowed to make America great again, China, Russia, and Turkey had already established the fashion for nostalgic nationalism. Democracies are not immune to nostalgia — look at Japan, India, Hungary, and Britain.

Globalization and the relative decline of the West increase nostalgia for a more nationalist past. But neither Putin nor Xi is keen to discuss the crimes of Stalin and Mao, and Germans would nix a vow to make Germany great again.

2017 January 2

Robocars — Upside

Morgan Stanley

Autonomous cars will offer better safety features and more efficiency. Semiautonomous cars are in showrooms today. Completely autonomous cars are set to be available by the end of the decade.

The social and economic implications are enormous. They will transform the auto industry business model. Related businesses, such as telecoms, software, media, freight transportation, semiconductors, and insurance, will also face disruption and opportunity.

Autonomous cars could contribute $1.3 trillion in annual savings to the US economy. Annual US productivity gains alone would be over $500 billion. Global savings could be over $5.6 trillion.

The auto industry will have to shift gears. The growth of software as a part of the car is likely to divide the industry into dedicated hardware and software makers, with a crucial role for vertical integration. This structure would resemble that of the smartphone or computer industries.

Most of the concerns or obstacles to mass adoption of autonomous vehicles are largely practical or procedural. Technology is not an issue. The capability to make a robocar is largely available today and only needs incremental research and development.

Public opinion on robocars remains split. Acceptance and adoption will take time. Potential obstacles include building sufficient infrastructure, government regulation, and ethical issues.

Robocars — Downside


An autonomous car that relies on a human to save the day in an emergency is not going to work. Humans make horrible backups — they are inattentive, easily distracted, and slow to respond. So automakers will be taking you out of the equation entirely.

Full autonomy — no steering wheel, no pedals, no human backup — is the best way forward. Google figured this out around 2012. The shift came as automakers recognized the difficulty of the handoff — getting the person behind the wheel to take control in seconds.

Level 2 autonomous cars can keep their lane and handle rush-hour gridlock. Level 3 autonomy defines cars that can make basic decisions like when to change lanes or pass other vehicles. Level 3 requires making sure the car can handle any situation for several seconds while the human wakes up and takes over.

Level 3 autonomy is difficult to justify. If every car on the road featured Level 2 capabilities, fatal automobile collisions would drop by 80% already. Full autonomy brings more safety improvements while also bringing mobility to people who cannot drive, automating deliveries, and creating other opportunities.

Google started with a system that could handle highway driving with human oversight. But engineers soon realized those humans were lulled into paying zero attention and would be all but useless in emergencies. So they are going straight to levels 4 and 5 and pursuing full autonomy.

Most automakers started planning to progress steadily through the levels. Ford was among the first to break ranks, announcing in late 2015 that it would skip Level 3. Audi has invested heavily in the handoff and plans to bring Level 3 to the showroom in 2018.

Audi is also pursuing full autonomy. General Motors is buying robocar startups and Ford is rebranding itself as a mobility company. Car sharing and other alternatives to ownership are growing in popularity, and upstarts like Uber see an opportunity to push established players aside.

Uber wants to drop the human chauffeurs in taxi cabs. Google could configure robocabs for riders to use its other services. Cities hosting fleets of robocabs get a new way to cut congestion and solve parking problems.

2017 January 1


Andy Ross

Frank Wilczek won his Nobel Prize in 2004 for breakthroughs on the mathematical foundations of quantum chromodynamics — our theory of how quarks make atomic nuclei — and is a passionate advocate of the supersymmetric extension of current theory that would deepen it yet further ...

Unlike most authors of books on physics for poets, Wilczek is not patronizing and does not seek to erase the technical truth behind his readable gloss on the quest for deep beauty. On the contrary, he puts his passions on show with rapturous outpourings of praise for the creative impulse behind the visions he beholds — and then cites details in appended explanations of his terms of art that spell out the cash value of even his most apparently overblown rhetoric that show he chose every word carefully, and meant it.

This is clearly a book that transcends most of the glosses on physics that litter bookshops today. As an addict of such books, ever hopeful of striking gold but too often disappointed, I am confident it will stand as a classic of its kind a century from now.


Andy Ross

Jonathan Franzen is a good writer and Purity is a good novel. With a story about a star German hacker, whose proclaimed mission is to let sunlight disinfect the dirty secrets of this world, and a mixed cast of hapless Americans, who unwittingly reveal deeper downsides of modern life, this book could have been written for me ...

The best novelists manage to achieve a forensic detachment from their subjects that gives the reader space to air dissenting views. Franzen did well at standing back, but ... the characters all seemed like nightmare products of Franzen's imagination, with exactly the lack of frontal lobe function that dream figures often display.

By any normal standards it was a fine novel.

BLOG 2016
Lockheed Martin
Three F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters represent our trillion-dollar bet on the future of the West

AR O for a winter break
with warm wind and sun

Laura Williams Photography
Dirty laundry — where?

Georgy Kurasov

AR My festive binge this
season is reading Purity
by Jonathan Franzen
Conservative identity:
cool and conformist
(sample size 1)

Jennifer Lawrence

Minuteman III
LGM-30 Minuteman Launch
Logic Earth

"That's what the world
needs now: a POTUS
who tweets about
nuclear policy."
Sam Harris

Paris Hilton in paradise

AR We might join her
there all too soon.

David Bowie's widow Iman, 61

The God Meme

Evolution and the Big Bang
are real and God is not a
magician with a magic wand,
declared Pope Francis to the
Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Experts say his comments put
the kybosh on the pseudo-
theories of creationism
and intelligent design.

Admirable history
of an Asian millennium
of triumph and tragedy
— my Amazon review of
Lost Enlightenment
by S. Frederick Starr

POTUS 45 elected

Rogue One

US Electors vote today for
POTUS 45. Trump trails in the popular vote by over 2.5 million
— the third-worst vote margin among winning candidates
since 1824.

Privatize the military
and see how we like the
social consequences of
their funding drives.

Deepest Mandelbrot Set Zoom
Animation: 10^275

Hardest Mandelbrot Zoom
Ever In 2014: 10^198

Mandelbrot Set Back Story


2016 New Year's Eve

Happy New Tweet

Donald J. Trump

Great move on delay (by V. Putin) — I always knew he was very smart!

AR We all look forward to a new era of harmonious progress.

American Democracy

Fareed Zakaria

In the West, liberty and law on the one hand and popular participation on the other created liberal democracy. This culture of liberal democracy is waning in the United States today.

The Founding Fathers conceived of America as a republic to mitigate some of the dangers of illiberal democracy. The United States developed a democratic culture, formed in large part by a series of informal buffers that weakened the sway of the majority. A professional elite ensured that US society and government would focus on the national interest.

The two prevailing dynamics in US society over the past few decades have been toward greater democratic openness and market efficiency. We are about to see what American democracy looks like without buffers in the way of populism and demagoguery.

AR Liberal humanism as we know it is past its best-before date.

2016 December 30

Israeli Intransigence

The New York Times

Differences between Israel and the United States have boiled over into a diplomatic confrontation. Israeli policy, under the government of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has evolved away from an acceptance of a negotiated two-state resolution with the Palestinians.

A UN Security Council resolution condemned Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Obama administration chose to abstain from the vote rather than to block it.

Under any negotiated solution, Israelis expect their capital to be Jerusalem. But Palestinians also want Jerusalem as their capital, as well as access to the Muslim holy sites.

This is the cynical logic of the settlement movement: When the world is silent, Israel can build settlements; when the world objects, Israel must build settlements. Under any scenario, the possibility of a two-state solution will recede.

The Palestinians are divided and their leaders malicious or hapless. Hamas rules in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority governs in the West Bank. The settlements are an obstacle.

US secretary of state John Kerry warned that without a two-state solution, Israel faces a choice between being a Jewish state and a democracy. If Israel annexes the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Palestinians become the majority in greater Israel. Israelis can either let them vote and lose its identity or deny them and lose its democracy.

The Israeli far right imagines a different one-state solution. Egypt takes over the Gaza Strip, Israel holds most of the West Bank, Jordan takes most former West Bank residents, and Jerusalem comes entirely under Israeli control.

AR A Palestinian state is not a viable solution in the present political climate. Hard though it seems, Israel must prevail against Islamist opposition.

Syrian Civil War

David Greenberg

Americans see the carnage in Syria as a humanitarian disaster. But the humanitarian crisis is just one of the consequences of the US approach to the Syrian civil war:

1 Barack Obama says Syria is of no great strategic importance to the United States. This breaks with decades of geostrategic thinking. If Russia displaces US power in the Mideast, it will affect US influence across the region.

2 Europe has struggled for decades to assimilate Muslim arrivals from the Mideast and Africa. But the new waves of Syrian refugees have created a crisis. Several EU states are in turmoil.

3 The Obama administration was slow to counter the gathering strength of Daesh. The terrorist outfit is on the defensive now, but it continues to plot and spur terrorism in the West.

4 The delay on Daesh also forced the United States to change its strategy in Syria. Obama directed US military power to the fight against Daesh, turning his attention from Assad.

5 Obama said in 2012 that if Assad were to use chemical weapons, he would cross a red line and trigger US military intervention. A year later, when evidence showed that Assad had used them, Obama backed down from reprisals.

Obama avoided another quagmire but went too far. His approach neither strengthened American influence nor helped to make a safer world.

AR Blame the Nobel Peace Prize committee for giving him an ideal to live up to.

British Dirty Laundry

Ben Judah

Billions of dollars are laundered through the London real estate market every year, contributing to an estimated annual total of $125 billion laundered in Britain.

British law is on the side of the kleptocrats. An autocrat on the run can create a shell company to hide his identity and the source of his illicit wealth, and then use this instrument to purchase property incognito. London bankers, brokers, and lawyers will ask no awkward questions as they take their commissions.

Such anonymous companies now own nearly 40,000 London properties. Some of these purchases may be legitimate and innocent, but Transparency International found this technique had been used for three-quarters of properties whose owners were investigated for corruption in Britain.

The London Laundromat is destroying the country's reputation. Across the former Soviet Union, Britain is now seen as a partner in corruption, not democracy.

AR An amendment now in parliament can fix this, but only with zealous application of the law. I fear that Brexiteers may seek to indulge the kleptocrats in order to boost British finances.

Austrian Word of the Year

Der Standard


AR Wunderbar!

2016 December 29

Western Civilization

Nigel Biggar

The Chinese are keen to understand the West and its success. They think Christianity has something to do with it. They perceive that Western civilization has enduring characteristics to which Christianity has made a signal contribution and which are quite distinct from traditional Chinese civilization and modern communist culture.

Within the West, some draw exaggerated contrasts between Christendom and the Islamic world in the medieval period, between imperial Europe and Asia in the 19th century, between liberal democracies and the Soviet empire in the 20th, and between the West and the rest now.

Westerners have found much to admire in other cultures and have borrowed liberally from them. Algebra from the Islamic world, cuisine from India, paper and gunpowder from China, and fine arts from Japan are just the highlights. Members of other cultures can grasp and appropriate Western ideas too — Africans and Asians are sometimes better humanists than contemporary Westerners.

Truth, goodness, and beauty transcend time and place. No one culture has a monopoly of wisdom, but some values are more at home in one culture than another. The primacy of the individual over the state is arguably more entrenched in those Western cultures shaped by Christianity than in those eastern ones shaped by Confucianism.

Christian Europe was well acquainted with individualism, democracy, political liberty, and rationality. The prominence of the individual in the West stems from the Christian notion of the prophet called to stand up for individual justice. Christian social roots anchored an institutional separation of church and state in the West, which created space for a flourishing civil society generally lacking in the Islamic world.

Pre-modern Christendom was no stranger to reason. Scholastic theologians pushed natural science in an empirical direction by affirming the biblical contingency of the created world against Aristotelian necessity. What could have been other than it is in fact can only be known by observation, not speculation.

AR The Christian individual is a person guided by an inner light. This light is reason for a Hellenic soul and revelation for a Judaic one, but the Christian concept merged the two in a synthesis that survived until communists subverted it and forced the evolution of modern humanism. We are now seeing the emergence of a cyborg environmentalism that merges humans with technology and individualist thinking with planetary consciousness — Globorg.

2016 December 28

Bounded Rationality

Daniel Engber

Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky argued in 1971 that belief in generalizations based on overly small sample sizes was a bias of cognition. They went on to show that mistakes in human judgment are not exceptions but the rule. Kahneman went on to win a Nobel Prize in 2002, and his 2011 book
Thinking, Fast and Slow became a huge success.

Now many of the findings Kahneman cited in the book appear to be fragile, even spurious. Studies mentioned there started to dissolve as scientists tried and failed to reproduce the original results. The problem was the one he had identified in 1971: The researchers were fooled by faulty intuitions about randomness.


Jonas T. Kaplan, Sarah I. Gimbel, Sam Harris

We used neuroimaging to investigate the neural systems involved in maintaining belief in the face of counterevidence. We presented 40 liberals with arguments that contradicted their strongly held political and non-political views. Our results highlight the role of emotion in belief-change resistance and offer insight into the neural systems involved in belief maintenance, motivated reasoning, and related phenomena.

Participants were especially resistant to arguments against their political beliefs. Given the personal importance of political beliefs for the subjects enrolled in this study, we expected our stimuli to evoke cognition related to social identity. We found that individual differences in resistance to belief change correlated with activity in brain regions important for the generation of emotions, feelings, and social judgments.

All of our participants were strong liberals. It is not clear how well these results would generalize to conservatives. Several studies have found structural or functional differences between the brains of conservatives and liberals.

AR Sample size 40.

2016 December 27

Passengers Arrival


First contact with advanced alien visitors was the theme of Arrival. Huge ellipsoidal spacecraft came to hover silently over various spots of Earth and human experts sought to communicate with them. Amy Adams played the language expert who made first meaningful contact with the squid-like inhabitants of one of the ellipsoids. Their messages looked like splashed rings from wet coffee cups and she had a hard time making any sense of them. After humans worldwide struggled to guess a few words that seemed to form a vague message and military authorities began to get edgy, the spacecraft silently headed off, leaving a host of unanswered questions.

Communication is a deep philosophical enigma, and Arrival dramatized the issue superbly. The movie also forced us to confront our immaturity as a species by spacefaring standards. Civilized squids exploring the galaxy in giant ellipsoids would naturally find it hard to strike up a conversation with us, not only on the technical level but also in terms of what there was to say. The Adams character was moved in ways she found unable to express, and that seemed a bigger payoff than any new equation to warp spacetime or whatever. This was a movie for philosophers.

By contrast, Passengers could almost have been written to a formula. Avalon, a giant space cruiser bearing five thousand aspiring colonists in hibernation to a remote Earth-like planet, hits a cloud of space rubble and suffers damage. The story is set in a far enough future that the ship is on a fairly routine voyage using proven technology and the the passengers are as safe as on an ocean-going cruise liner on Earth today. But they are on a one-way voyage to a planet many light-years away. For a technophile, the visualization of this great vessel is surely the main treat in this movie.

The plot of Passengers relies in part on surprise, so it may be unwise to say too much, but the main plot line is the developing relationship between two passengers, Jim and Aurora (played by Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence), after first Jim and then Aurora wake up from hibernation following malfunctions caused by the rubble collision, some ninety years before arrival at the destination planet. As their lonely wakefulness in the huge public spaces of the ship works on them and as the ship suffers escalating malfunctions, the movie artfully evokes moods from such earlier classics as The Shining, set in an empty hotel, and Titanic, set on a sinking ship. Jim gradually masters his initial despair and seeks to repair the ship, while Aurora goes through a gamut of heartfelt emotions that Lawrence plays impressively well.

Arrival and Passengers are two very different movies, but they complement each other in ways that reward comparative reflection. Arrival shows how little one can say about the problems of saying anything at all. A single note of mystic bafflement is allowed to ring out loud and clear, with no more or less to convey than a Zen gong in a religious retreat. Passengers shows how even a formulaic plot can be redeemed by loving attention to the technically plausible visualization of the interior and exterior details of an interstellar passenger cruiser.

For me, this makes Passengers the more interesting movie despite my wholehearted admiration for the evocation of the mystic side of communication in Arrival. Scientists may do genuine homage to deep philosophy, but in the end they spend most of their time and effort on the technology, and hence get most of their kicks from it. And few scientists will fail to enjoy seeing J-Law in action.

2016 December 26

World War 3

Eric Schlosser

The United States and Russia are drifting toward a new cold war. Many of the nuclear weapon systems on both sides are aging and obsolete. The USAF Global Strike Command has 440 Minuteman III ICBMs, relics of the Cold War, sitting in underground silos, ready to take off within 2 minutes, to deter a surprise attack.

The US nuclear war plan is the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). It depended on getting Minuteman missiles off the ground immediately. The plan called for the destruction of 12,000 targets within the Soviet Union, with 400 nuclear weapons targeted on Moscow alone.

Missiles launched from Russia would give POTUS about 20 minutes to respond. Missiles launched from Russian submarines in the western Atlantic would give him only 5 minutes. A decision to launch Minuteman missiles on warning would kill millions of people.

The United States has taken precautions to thwart a cyberattack on its nuclear command and control system. If landline communications between Minuteman control centers and their missiles are interrupted, the missiles can still be launched by UHF radio signals from Air Force One. The radio link creates an entry point for a possible cyberattack.

Hundreds of missiles based on US Navy submarines also deter a Russian attack. But they too may be compromised by malware. The Royal Navy saves money by using Windows for Submarines, a version of Windows XP, on its ballistic missile subs. Microsoft support for Windows XP ended in 2014.

Russia is modernizing its nuclear arsenal. The Russian leadership is terrified of a decapitation strike. A first strike is probably the only imaginable route to decisive victory in nuclear war. Vladimir Putin: "When a fight is inevitable, you have to hit first."

POTUS has sole power to order the use of US nuclear weapons, with no legal obligation to consult anyone else.

AR Schlosser is an expert on all this. His 2013 book Command and Control is terrifying.

2016 Christmas Day



If I am a sovereign being, my free will is hard to find, and must defy the findings of neuroscience. If a public polity is to be sovereign, it must set its face against a well developed international order, with global rules on peace and war, trade and markets, and human rights and duties. If freedom is power, it must escape the chains of rules that bind our choices.

In personal or political life, the scientific constraints on free will fall behind in the admission that no well founded prediction can be derived in time to make effective decisions. If I wait for the scientific story to unfold, the moment has passed and my act is choked. Life as we know it involves acting fast, in real time, and the power to do so is our freedom.

Politicians are paid to make choices on behalf of those who put them in power. Voters may be pushed by powers beyond their control to vote as they do, but the laws of large numbers average out the wilder impulses and the rulers who emerge can count on a steady base. Still, the focused power that remains is hostage to a cloud of neural and social fortune.

In both personal and political life, seeking to escape the wheel of fortune is a fatal error. The road to absolute sovereignty is a hard one, and going with the flow is usually the better way. If I choose autonomy, to be my own boss and do my own thing, I must defy the gods, but if I work with others in similar predicaments I can make peace with my fate.

Neuroscience tells me that my brain has evolved to maintain the illusion of control, to steer me away from entanglements and toward a felt sense of freedom. But history shows that people must moderate their natural impulses if they want to live together in harmony. Politicians naturally want sovereignty, but they should beware of what they wish for.

2016 December 24


Andy Ross

I started this book with high hopes and found the first half really interesting, then it went downhill fast. Muller is obviously an excellent experimental physicist and has understood Einstein's theories of relativity, at least, really well. He also gives workmanlike accounts of large parts of particle physics and the basics of quantum theory ...

That said, the denouement in Part V is an utter disappointment.

2016 December 23

Trump Tweet Translated

Max Fisher

PEOTUS Trump appears to have declared US nuclear weapons policy in a tweet:
"The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."

Nuclear policy has a meticulous language all its own, but his words fall outside that language:

The word "strengthen" is not in its lexicon but may mean
— Modernize existing nuclear forces by upgrading President Obama's plan
— Expand qualitative nuclear capability by developing improved delivery systems
— Deploy existing weapons systems closer to adversaries

The word "expand" may mean
— Move some warheads from reserve stockpiles to active deployment
— Build and deploy new warheads
— Build new warheads and stockpile them

Strengthening and expansion may mean increasing
— The number and yield of nuclear warheads
— The speed, stealth, range, or other attributes of weapons that deliver them
— Both

"until such time"
— As I want
— As is necessary to maintain the status quo
— As certain foreign states fulfill certain conditions

"the world"
— All nuclear weapons states
— Russia and China
— Russia

The aim may be to
— Avoid any escalation that might disturb the global status quo
— Continue until the world accepts American nuclear primacy
— Continue until we get global nuclear disarmament

Any increase in capability would force Russia and China to respond, increase the number of nuclear conflict scenarios, and reduce the response time in a crisis. The Obama plan to update the nuclear arsenal is already projected to cost $1 trillion.

The Fall of Language in the Age of English

Minae Mizumura

This book was written for those who, in moments of solitude, quietly worry about the future of Japanese literature and the Japanese language. It is for those who think that what is being written in Japanese today is ultimately of little relevance but who wish, with mingled despair and resignation, that at the very least more people would read Japanese literature written in those years when it was deserving of the name.

AR My stab at learning Japanese in Japan, plus my reading of classic Japanese novels in English translation, suggests this despairing reflection is right. There was a fragile delicacy in the culture that appears like a vanishing world through the prism of English global hegemony.

2016 December 22

David Bowie

Ian Penman

In 1975 David Bowie was in Los Angeles pretending to star in a movie. In an interview for Rolling Stone he talked about the drugs he preferred. Station to Station, which he released in January 1976, was about as far from Kiss and Led Zeppelin and the Eagles as you could possibly get.

A key to his success in the 1970s was that his rock superstar personae, including Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, were both up on a pedestal and down in the everyday dirt. As an artist, writer, actor, singer, Bowie was good, but could never join the ranks of the greats in any of those areas. The huge surge of affection when he died came about partly because people felt he remained a kid who never forgot where he was from.

Bowie met the Somalian supermodel Iman in 1990 and he sobered up. Watching Bowie selling himself to the world was a depressing sight. To fall to Earth, you have to have been way up in the stars.

AR I liked the late Bowie. Sobering up is a seal of quality.

The Soviet Union

Leon Aron

The Soviet Union in 1985 possessed much the same resources as it had a decade earlier. The standard of living was lower than in most of Eastern Europe, but the Soviet Union had known far greater calamities without losing its grip. No key parameter of economic performance prior to 1985 pointed to disaster.

The Soviet Union was at the height of its global power and influence, both in its own view and in the view of the rest of the world. The structural reasons for its collapse fail to explain how it happened. Between 1985 and 1989, the state and its economic system began to be seen as shameful, illegitimate, and intolerable.

A quest for self-respect and pride hollowed out the mighty Soviet state. Deprived of its legitimacy, the USSR turned into a shell that crumbled in August 1991. The tale of this intellectual and moral journey is a central story of the last century.

AR The present USUK order could end equally quickly.

2016 December 21

The Trump Fact

Martin Wolf

Democracy lets people with different views live together in harmony. An outburst of fear and anger is disturbing because such primal emotions are hard to contain. In the UK and the US in 2016, they came together in nationalism and xenophobia.

The more powerful the passions, the more likely the democratic system will collapse into despotism. Demagogues claim the tyranny of the majority as a mask on the tyranny of one. Trump in charge of the USA is a devastating fact.

The Brexit Game

Daniel Finkelstein

Thomas Schelling worked out how to prevent nuclear war. He helped American policymakers see that they had to make first use taboo and ensure they could always retaliate. With a telephone hotline between the Kremlin and Washington, they could then avoid nuclear war.

The ideas of Schelling and the game theorists relate to the problems Britain now faces when negotiating departure from the European Union. Brexit is a game involving many players and a reasonable outcome is not assured. It could end in conflict and failure.

Schelling rules:

1 We should know what an acceptable deal looks like.
2 We should flag any absolute commitments clearly.
3 We should go for a good outcome for both of us.

AR Rule 0 — rise above us versus them.

2016 December 20

Germany 2017

Josef Joffe

On Bastille Day in Nice, a man drove a truck into a crowd, killing 86. Last night in Berlin, a man drove a truck into a crowd, killing 12. Germany has foiled many more terror attacks.

The German cocoon has burst. Germans will soon accept intensified surveillance. The federal government has decided to beef up data gathering and cyber warfare capabilities.

Angela Merkel's open-door policy on refugees will change. Last year she flung open the doors on German borders. Some 800,000 people from the Mideast and Africa swarmed in.

For Merkel, the open door was a grand moral gesture and an act of historical atonement. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Controls are now back with a vengeance.

Alternative für Deutschland will campaign against Merkel in the 2017 general elections. She will want to pose as a protector of domestic security. Germany is a terror target too.

AR The terrorists have split up Europe already.

America 2017

Edward Luce

One of the reasons the US won the cold war was its skill at breaking China away from the Soviet Union. When Nixon went to China in 1972 he cemented the Sino-Soviet split and weakened Moscow. Nixon was a devout student of global affairs who grasped the geopolitical chessboard.

Trump wants to be known as the president who returns manufacturing jobs to the US. He is using the threat to the One China policy as leverage to wrest concessions from China. It will backfire.

AR If Trump ups arms to Taiwan, China will be angry.

UK 2017

Gideon Rachman

Brexit could be chaotic for trade and diplomatic relations. A smooth divorce may prove unattainable and instead become a train crash. The reasons are procedural and political.

Procedurally, the negotiations are complicated. Britain and the EU will try to unpick a 40-year relationship in 2 years. UK ambassador to the EU Sir Ivan Rogers says it could take 10 years.

Politically, there is simmering ill will on both sides. The negotiating process will reveal the immense gap between the assumptions of the two sides. Talks could break down irretrievably.

The EU estimate of British financial liabilities following Brexit is that the UK will be facing a bill of up to €60 billion. That figure will cause outrage in the UK. But the EU will be able to justify it.

Britain could simply walk out and let the case go to the International Court of Justice. Then it will be impossible to make any further progress on Brexit. Opinion will harden on both sides.

Brexit would happen after 2 years even with no deal. The consequences could be dire. A senior British civil servant: "It's going to be bloody, but we're just going to have to bash on through."

AR Expect a Trumped-up nuclear holocaust first.

2016 December 19

Unpresidented Trump

Global Times

Beijing and Washington understand that China will return the captured underwater drone to the United States. The two governments have shown responsibility in maintaining peace and stability.

Trump tweets
1 "China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters — rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act."
2 "We should tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back — let them keep it!"

Trump has no sense of how to lead a superpower. Since he has not taken office, China has kept a calm attitude toward his provocative remarks. But if he treats China after assuming office in the same way as in his tweets, China will not exercise restraint.

Reform Central Banks

Wolfgang Münchau

World Bank chief economist Paul Romer calls modern macroeconomics a racket.

The US and German central banks were independent before 1990 but most other central banks were not. Most people would probably not agree that since army generals know best what is good for us, national armed forces must be independent.

Defenders of the liberal order should push to reclaim the central levers of economic policy. They should distinguish the interests of the financial sector from those of the economy. Failure to do so was one of the reasons for the Brexit vote.

The case for reform is overwhelming.

Against Dark Matter

Natalie Wolchover

Erik Verlinde says gravity emerges from qubit entanglement and dark matter reduces to dark energy. He sees spacetime and matter as a hologram arising from an underlying network of qubits and traces dark energy to a property of the qubits.

Years ago, modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND) inventor Mordehai Milgrom conjectured that when the gravitational field strength drops below precisely 0.12 pN/g, gravity somehow switches from an inverse-square law to something close to an inverse-distance law.

Verlinde gives a back story for the MOND equations. He says spacetime is a geometric representation of data stored in qubits. To do the work of dark matter, he postulates a thermal energy associated with long-range entanglement between the qubits.

This entanglement is disrupted by matter, which interacts with dark energy to modify gravity. The interaction increasingly dominates in larger volumes of spacetime. Verlinde says it causes galaxy rotation curves to deviate from the inverse-square law exactly as in MOND.

Analysis of galaxies strengthens his case. Researchers looked at 153 galaxies and compared the rotation speed of visible matter at a given distance from each galactic center with the visible mass within that galactic radius. The two variables were linked as in MOND without dark matter.

Testing the new MOND on data from more than 30,000 galaxies shows that Verlinde correctly predicts the gravitational lensing of light from the galaxies — another claimed effect of dark matter.

The crowning achievement for Verlinde would be to account for the claimed imprints of dark matter in the cosmic microwave background (CMB). Dark matter explains the observed CMB spectrum but the old MOND does not.


USAF B-52H leads a formation of aircraft including two Polish Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, four USAF F-16s,
two Luftwaffe Eurofighter EF2000s and four Swedish Air Force Gripens over the Baltic Sea for exercise
BALTOPS, 2016-06-09

Donald and Ivanka
Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images
Donald and Ivanka

Rail Strike Chaos

RMT union boss Sean Hoyle:
"Replace the capitalist system
with a socialist order ...
if we all spit together
we can drown the

AR Kill.

Jail Riot Chaos

No hot water for showers in
a UK jail is thought to have
set off the worst prison
riot for a generation.

AR Pussies.

Panzerjäger Tiger (P)
(a.k.a. Sd.Kfz.184 Elefant)
at Southampton Docks on
its way to Bovington
Tank Museum


2016 December 18

The New Sheriff

The Sunday Times

Donald Trump will reverse American policy toward Russia and in the Mideast. He will ally with Vladimir Putin and repair US ties with autocratic Sunni Arab regimes. His team promises a "night and day" contrast with the outgoing administration.

Trump will usher in a "new era of American leadership" and launch a new offensive against Daesh to show them there is a "new sheriff in town" after eight years of weakness. Trump will order his generals to deliver a plan within a month of his inauguration.

Trump will woo Putin. He will ditch the nuclear deal with Iran and drive a wedge between Russia and Iran. He will use US special forces to the max. An officer: "All we need is the presidential authority and the GPS coordinates and we can kill anyone in the world within 72 hours."

Trump: "Military, cyber and financial warfare will all be essential in dismantling Islamic terrorism. But we must use ideological warfare as well. Just as we won the cold war, in part, by exposing the evils of communism and the virtues of free markets, so too must we take on the ideology of radical Islam."

AR It might work. Worth a try anyway. Worst that can happen is nuclear holocaust.

The New Britain

Tom Crewe

Britain is the most centralized country in the Western world. Its local councils account for about a quarter of government spending. Since 2010 their spending has been cut by over a third, and is scheduled to fall much further by 2020.

Soon after 2010, councils in England were encouraged to freeze council tax. The tax is calculated on the basis of property values set in 1993 and not updated since. Councils are prohibited from running a deficit and are obliged to balance the budget every year.

Councils have made big savings in roads and transport. Spending on parks and culture has also fallen. Leisure centres, swimming pools, playing grounds, public toilets, and libraries have been closed.

Since 2010, billions have been cut from social care budgets. The services that remain are overstretched, and councils must make more cuts this year, with yet more to come. By 2020, English councils will be spending most of their income on social care.

Austerity destroys local government and marketizes nearly every aspect of public policy. Local government will soon be forced to outsource most of its responsibilities to the private sector. A municipal nation has been destroyed.

AR Be Stoic: The rich will get richer, the jams (just about managing) will go into forced servitude, and the rest will face death with a smile.

The New Stoics

Philip Delves Broughton

Last week Donald Trump met the new titans in Trump Tower. Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, and Larry Page of Alphabet came along in suits and ties. They have embraced Stoicism — accepting what they cannot change and managing what they can.

Stoicism is the new Zen. Ryan Holiday has sold nearly a quarter of a million copies of his book The Obstacle Is the Way. Athletes, Hollywood celebrities, and the venture capitalists and entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley bought the recycled philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.

The Stoics were indifferent to pleasure and pain, wealth and poverty, fortified by their distance from the emotions that trouble ordinary minds. When they kissed their children goodnight, they imagined them dying, so that if the worst were to happen they would be ready.

Marcus Aurelius faced war and death on the fringes of the Roman Empire. He wrote that facing a fine meal, you should recall "this is the dead body of a fish and this is the dead body of a bird or a pig".

James Stockdale was a US navy pilot who spent years in North Vietnam as a prisoner of war. He had read Epictetus. He survived by confronting the brutal facts of his situation. The men who went under were the optimists: "They died of a broken heart."

Epictetus: "Men, the lecture room of the philosopher is a hospital; students ought not to walk out of it in pleasure, but in pain."

AR Cue for my next book.

2016 December 17

British Tax Haven Gambit

Der Spiegel

Despite Brexit, Brits want a say in deciding EU tax policy. They propose an HM Treasury candidate to chair the EU working group that oversees tax competition between member states. EU27 members resist his nomination because since the Brexit vote Britain has blocked moves to outlaw tax havens such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and the British Virgin Islands.

AR Perfidious Albion — don't let it drag EU down.

German Armed Forces Update

Ursula von der Leyen

Since the election of the new US president, it has become clear to Europeans that we have to take matters that affect us into our own hands.

There is no military solution in Syria, only a political one. If there were a way to stop Assad by force without risking wider war, we would do so. Assad is getting massive air and ground support from Russia and Iran. Syria could set the world ablaze.

We have cut spending on the German armed forces for too long and now we must modernize them. We are approaching the NATO 2% goal in reasonable steps, but modernization takes time. We shall include this goal in our election manifesto.

The EU and Germany must do more in Mali. By agreement with the UN, the German army will take over helicopter rescue duties in northern Mali from Holland in spring 2017. The Bundestag will vote in January on increasing our manpower there.

The military can only do so much. Civilian aid costs money, but it is better than hosting African migrants here or deporting them.

AR Brits who would cut aid should see this too.

Quantum Futures

Anthony Sudbery, ed. AR

Determinism is the idea that if you know the present you can predict the future. It worked for centuries. Then came quantum physics.

Quantum theory defines a state vector from which you can derive predictions. If you choose which physical quantities you want to measure, subject to complementarity, the state vector gives you probabilities for the possible answers.

Quantum mechanics gives us two answers about the future. In the view from nowhere, the universe is described by a universal state vector and its evolution is deterministic. In the view from here and now, we occupy a particular world and its evolution is probabilistic.

From here and now there are many worlds, but one of them is singled out as actual. In my future, no one world is singled out for me. I face a superposition of future worlds.

Predictions do not have to be either true or false. Let a true statement have truth value 1 and a false one have truth value 0. The truth value of a prediction X is a number between 0 and 1 giving the probability of X.

In the view from nowhere, there are many worlds with different probabilities. My actual world is one of them, and it has probability 1 for me. Possible worlds that are counterfactual relative to my world have probability 0 for me.

The whole universal state vector goes into the calculation of future probabilities. Counterfactual events can still affect the future until they fall away by decoherence. Even in a deterministic universe, our predictions are always uncertain.

AR This is just the Kripke semantics of an Everett multiverse with Bayesian probability.


Kremlin, Moscow, 2016-12-08 (Maxim Shipenkov/EPA)
FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment
that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win.

UK government officials say Moscow is undermining the UK through espionage, misinformation, cyberattacks,
and fake news.

Petras Malukas
Seen in Vilnius, Lithuania

Cambridge University Library
Principia Mathematica
by Isaac Newton: 1687 first
edition sold for $3.7 million

German defense minister
Ursula von der Leyen with Saudi
defense minister Mohammed
Bin Salman al-Saud, Riyad

2015 Defense Budgets

United States $597.5 billion
Saudi Arabia $87.2 billion
United Kingdom $56.2 billion
France $46.8 billion
Germany $36.7 billion

Asteroid Armageddon

NASA scientist Joseph Nuth
says big asteroids and comets
on collision course with Earth
are extremely rare but for us
any collision is an extinction
level event. NASA has a new
planetary defense office and
Nuth recommends building
an interceptor rocket
in readiness.

Clint and Tom did good.

Czego szukasz w Święta?
English for beginners


In hindsight, do you think
Britain was right or wrong
to vote to leave the EU?


2016 December 16

Christmas Dinner

Poole Conservative Association
Royal Motor Yacht Club, Sandbanks

AR Robert Syms MP gave an interesting speech on the United States and the federal ideal in Europe, the British and German economies, and the opportunities and challenges of Brexit.

Team Trump


Some choice picks:

Vice-President: Mike Pence, the Governor of Indiana, an evangelical Christian who opposes abortion and denies the theory of evolution.
Department of State: Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, whose interests and wealth are tangled in a web of global relationships, including a close partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Treasury: Steven Mnuchin, an investment banker who made billions off of the housing crisis.
Department of Labor: Andrew Puzder, a fast-food CEO who disdains the minimum wage and backs increased automation in low-wage fields.
Department of Education: Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who evangelizes charter schools and private instruction.
Department of Energy: Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who infamously wants to dismantle the agency, when he can remember its name.
Health and Human Services: Tom Price, a Georgia representative who opposes the Affordable Care Act and wants deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.
Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt, who describes himself as a "leading advocate" against the agency.
Department of Justice: Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator who opposes the Voting Rights Act and supports a rollback of federal protection for LGBT victims of hate crimes.
Homeland Security: John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general who opposes closing the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.
Department of Defense: James Mattis, another retired Marine Corps general, on record as saying: "If you fuck with me, I'll kill you all."

AR Amazing, Donald.

2016 December 15

Google Translate

Gideon Lewis-Kraus

In November 2016, at a Google office in London, London mayor Sadiq Khan introduced Google chief executive Sundar Pichai. The Google of the future, said Pichai, is in artificial intelligence.

Google Brain was founded in 2011 to give artificial neural networks something like human flexibility. This approach to AI can solve hard problems like speech recognition and image recognition.

When Pichai spoke, Translate had just been converted to an AI system. The new incarnation had been completed in only nine months, yet showed huge overnight improvements.

Networks of simple artificial neurons can learn the way we do. An artificial neural network can rewire itself to reflect patterns in the data it absorbs. This approach to AI is evolutionary rather than creationist.

Google Brain built an artificial neural network comparable in complexity to a mouse brain. They taught it to recognize cats. They showed it labeled pictures of cats as inputs and rated its outputs, and let it wire itself to map the inputs to the outputs.

The cat work made Brain famous. Lead author Quoc Le then saw that if a network could handle a photo it could also handle a sentence. His team developed an architecture to accommodate complex structures that unfolded over time, like language or music.

A new chip made the network faster. Tensor processing units are deliberately imprecise: rather than compute 12.24 x 54.39, they compute 12 x 54. A neural network is formally a structured series of matrix multiplications carried out in succession, and the process needs to be fast rather than exact.

In February 2016, Google convened its research leads at an offsite retreat. The Translate update rolled out in November.

Good machine translation is likely to prove transformational. It is a big step toward artificial general intelligence, AGI.

AR This reminds me so much of what we used to do on a smaller scale at SAP.

2016 December 14

UK Bargaining Chips

Financial Times

A Lords committee says:

UK government ministers should provide an immediate unilateral undertaking to protect the citizenship rights of EU nationals living in the UK after Brexit.
Failure to do so would have severe consequences for EU citizens in Britain, who would become subject to national immigration laws of Byzantine complexity.
Giving Europeans a firm message on their future before the end of Brexit negotiations is the only morally right action.

AR I am appalled and ashamed that the government under which I live has not already and unconditionally done so.

German Defense

Foreign Policy

The Bundeswehr has 176,752 active military personnel and 200 Leopard 2 tanks. The Luftwaffe has 109 Eurofighter Typhoons and 89 Tornados. The German navy has just 10 frigates.

German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen will spend an extra $140 billion on equipment over the next 15 years. Germany spends 1.2% of GDP on defense, against a NATO target of 2%, and she is raising this to 1.22% in 2017.

Low German defense spending and limited capabilities are a hangover from WW2. Over the last 25 years, Germany has converged with France and the UK on the politics of using military force. But even the Ukraine crisis has not changed German hesitancy about the use of military force.

A half of Germans think the defense budget should be increased. But Germans do not want to arm against Russia, even if people in the Baltic states and Poland do. Fear of being overwhelmed by refugees rather than fear of Russia is prompting Germans to rethink their security policy.

AR Germany, France, and the UK need to coordinate their defense policies much more closely — and as a matter of the highest priority.

The Big Picture — my review of a book by Sean Carroll

2016 December 13


Financial Times

Donald Trump has named Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive of ExxonMobil, as his secretary of state. Vladimir Putin awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship in 2013. Tillerson will work with secretary of defense "Mad Dog" Mattis (blog December 3) and national security adviser Michael Flynn, former director of the DIA.

Russia expert and former secretary of defense Robert Gates: "I strongly endorse the president-elect's selection of Rex Tillerson to be the next secretary of state ... He is a person of great integrity whose only goal in office would be to protect and advance the interests of the United States."

Trump has tapped billionaire investor Wilbur Ross for his commerce secretary and top trade official, Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn to head the White House national economic council, and Goldman alumnus Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary.

AR Big Business takes over US governance. This tends to confirm the view of politics and business I aired in my book G.O.D. Is Great (2010). Global corporations will win against national polities. Trump knows this. Snobbish governing elites will fail against brash hard chargers from the corporate jungle, just as smug religious elites failed against scientists.


The New York Times

A billion-dollar investment fund led by Bill Gates and other technology titans will invest in transformative energy R&D to reduce the emissions that cause climate change.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures will capitalize on government-backed research through partnerships with the University of California system and other institutions.

The fund has 20 investors and will last 15 to 20 years. It will cover investments in electricity generation and storage, transportation, agriculture, and energy system efficiency.


Der Spiegel

Aleppo steht kurz vor dem Fall, Bewohner in den Rebellengebieten sind in höchster Not. Laut Rotem Kreuz ist die humanitäre Situation katastrophal, die UNO ist alarmiert wegen Berichten über Gräueltaten gegen Zivilisten.


Science Museum

The new Winton mathematics gallery at the Science Museum in London reveals the richness of mathematics.

Maths is popular with A-level students in British schools. As a STEM subject it provides a ticket into the world of science and jobs. But the maths they learn will not equip them with the right skills.

The machinery that powers mathematics is crucial. Before modern computers, we did calculations by hand, so we worked hard to avoid them at the expense of more upfront deliberation in defining and abstracting the question. It was a meticulous process.

The process of defining questions, translating them into math, computing the answers, and interpreting results, is computational thinking. Mathematics is all this, not just pure calculation.

We need to focus on computational thinking, the process that drives practical applications of mathematics.

AR Years ago I helped set up the Mathematisches Kabinett, Deutsches Museum, München.

2016 December 12

Trump v China

Global Times

US President-elect Donald Trump: "I fully understand the One China policy, but I don't know why we have to be bound by a One China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade."

People marveled at Trump's commercial thinking and naivety for diplomacy. The One China policy has become a fundamental principle of international order. Leaders all around the world, including US leaders, understand it.

If Trump gave up the One China policy, supported Taiwan independence, and sold weapons to Taiwan, China would have no grounds to partner with Washington on international affairs and contain forces hostile to the US.

Trump is no geopolitical maniac, but he is easily subject to the hawkish advisers around him. We will learn more about how he interprets the One China policy after he is sworn in. China needs to be fully armed and prepared.

Trump v Government

Gideon Rachman

Donald Trump has placed a climate change denier in charge of environmental protection, an opponent of the minimum wage as labor secretary, a conspiracy theorist in charge of the National Security Council, and a protectionist at the commerce department. Now he is considering a recipient of the Kremlin's Order of Friendship as secretary of state.

Russia: Trump seems to want a rapprochement with Russia, which is suffering under economic sanctions imposed after its annexation of Crimea and intervened for him during the election, exciting speculation about his relationship with Russia.

Europe: The French and German governments fear Trump may support Marine Le Pen or the Alternative for Germany in elections next year, but weakening NATO could undermine his presidency.

Iran: He could easily rip up the nuclear deal, but this could put the US on the road to war.

Mideast: He advocates a much more ferocious approach to the war on radical Islamic terrorism.

China: He signals a sharp rise in tensions with Beijing.

PEOTUS endorses expansion in the US Navy. He could split the informal alliance between Russia and China and instead form a Washington-Moscow axis. But his moves smacks more of chaotic improvisation than strategic thinking.

Trump v World

Brendan Simms

PEOTUS Trump may damage EU chances of dealing with its many challenges. EZ and Schengen states are no longer sovereign in regard to currency or borders, and Germany lacks military capability, but the EU has only a shadow capability at supranational level.

The UK may have to hold the line in Europe for years. Rearmament must begin now in preparation for war against a major power in Europe. A grand bargain with the EU might preserve free trade, restrict immigration, and increase British commitment to European security through NATO.

London needs to read its neighbors the riot act on Russia. Europeans have seen they cannot have a common currency or a common travel area without a common state, and a European army without a European state can only end in more tears. They need full political union now.

PEOTUS must see that America has the biggest stake in the success of NATO.

2016 December 11


Natalie Wolchover

In quantum mechanics, time is universal and absolute. But in general relativity, time is relative and dynamical. We need to reconcile their notions of time.

Many physicists now consider spacetime and gravity to be emergent phenomena. Spacetime and matter emerge in a hologram from a network of entangled qubits. Spacetime is a geometric representation of the entanglement structure of the underlying quantum systems.

The hologram arises in toy universes with anti-de Sitter (AdS) spacetime. In their elliptical geometries, spacetime increments shrink to nothing at a boundary. The boundary provides a surface for the entangled qubits to project the hologram. The qubit states are like steps in timeless code, giving rise to relativistic time in the bulk of the AdS space.

In our universe, the fabric of spacetime has a hyperbolic de Sitter geometry. The fabric stretches out toward the end of time. At the end, in the heat death, everything becomes causally disconnected, time breaks down, and nothing more happens.

Researchers do not yet understand the emergence of time from the entangled qubits on the timeless boundary.

2016 December 10

Climate Science

Philip Ball

Science is under attack. Donald Trump claimed that climate change was a Chinese conspiracy to undermine US industrial competitiveness. Now he repeats an evasive little mantra about having an open mind.

But this is like saying you have an open mind about the shape of the Earth or about evolution. Anyone with an open mind will agree there is a huge body of evidence showing that human activities are affecting global climate. Yet Trump will stop funding for the NASA Earth Science division.

NASA climate research and monitoring is essential and respected worldwide. NASA GISS is one of the leading centers for studies of global climate change. An Atlantic Council report in March identified climate change as a threat to US national security.

The Trump plans for more astronaut space missions are not a shifting of NASA priorities but a concerted attack on science. There is no compelling scientific or economic argument to put all NASA resources into space missions. Space research is a luxury, Earth observations are essential.

Trump advisor Bob Walker says environmental monitoring is politically correct and climate science is heavily politicized. This is science denial. NASA should not accept such blatant political manipulation.

2016 December 9

EU Nuclear Defense

Der Spiegel

Donald Trump said NATO is obsolete. He mooted pulling back the US nuclear shield from Japan and South Korea and suggested they develop their own nuclear weapons. If Trump seriously questions US nuclear guarantees, Europe will be vulnerable to possible threats from Russia.

In that case, Berlin would consider establishing a European nuclear deterrent. NATO military officers and diplomats are addressing the issue of a French-British nuclear shield for Europe. Britain and France have only around 450 nuclear warheads, but their second-strike capability is strong enough to defend Europe.

Politically, the issue is trickier. France views its nuclear capability as a national asset and Britain is facing Brexit. Europeans would be forced to depend on Paris and London for their security. After Brexit, Germans might rather fund an EU nuclear arsenal under French leadership.

AR I discussed a Franco-British EU deterrent in G.O.D. Is Great (2010). National prejudices and technical interoperability are big obstacles. But I say do it.

Russia v NATO

Robert Cottrell

General Sir Richard Shirreff offers a scenario: 2017 begins with a new Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Russian army sweeps westward into eastern Ukraine up to Crimea. This conquest of half of Ukraine takes Russia three days. NATO fails to respond.

With that done, Russia moves against the Baltic states. Russian special forces engineer chaos during a demonstration in the Latvian capital Riga, which creates a pretext for a Russian invasion that is over in hours. Similar moves take Estonia and Lithuania.

NATO ambassadors meeting in Belgium fail to agree on action. Russian planes sink two navy ships, one German and one British. A reluctant Germany accepts that Russia and NATO are at war. The Shirreff scenario is a wake-up call to NATO.

AR See blog October 22.

Dictatorship of the People

Martin Wolf

Brexiteers will implement the result of the EU referendum. But the view that the executive must do so is a form of authoritarianism. The government becomes a dictatorship that rules in the name of the people.

AR Wolf wäre Volksverräter!

2016 December 8


Theresa May

Queen Elizabeth I stood up for Britain. She had a very clear vision about what she wanted to do.

I think everybody has their own style as to how they do business. I just get on and do the job. What was important in forming the team was unity.

I've got a team around me, some of them people I've worked with before, some of them I've not worked with before. I've reinstated cabinet subcommittees. There's a much more open and free discussion among cabinet colleagues on different policy issues.

I don't take all the decisions. Everybody thinks that suddenly everything is coming to me as prime minister. But there are some crucial decisions that obviously I take. It's not a question of whether people have earned trust, but of where it's appropriate for different decisions to be taken.

Whatever side anybody was on in the referendum vote, we've all now got to come together and deliver for the public. It's important that we don't leave it for too long, otherwise people will lose faith in their politicians. They'll think that we're trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

I want to see as smooth and orderly a process as possible. Of course, it's going to be complex because there's a lot to deal with. You're not a member of something for 40-odd years and then it's easy.

I think it's important for us to build up the relationship with the people we're negotiating with. There are 27 member states which will be negotiating. They don't want to see others looking to break away and to vote to leave in the way the UK has done.

Brexit Plan

David Davis

We are seeking a bespoke outcome on terms of trading with and operating within the European market. We are seeking tariff-free, barrier-free access. We have to judge what is best for Britain, in terms of its access ​both to the European market and to the rest of the world.

Our strategy is to bring back the control of migration to the UK government and parliament. That will be exercised in the national interest. We would expect to see pretty free movement of highly talented labour, and not to cause labour shortages.

AR Selfish UK Strategy (SUKS)

U.S. Pacific Command
Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), right, with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF)
ships JS Izumo (DDH 183), center, and JS Kurama (DDH 144), Philippine Sea, November 11, 2016

75 years ago today:
Japanese attack
on Pearl Harbor

Merkels Atomausstieg

Das Verfassungsgericht
spricht Energiekonzernen
ein Recht auf Schadenersatz
wegen des überhasteten
Atomausstiegs zu

Christoph Niemann
AR My writing career

I2 Am Globorg

I1 think this slogan makes
my Globorg idea ring better.
I1 is human, I2 is planetary.
So read I1 as "I for one"
and I2 as "I too".

Too Dumb To Know It

The Dunning—Kruger effect
is a cognitive bias in which
low-ability individuals suffer
from illusory superiority,
mistakenly assessing their
ability as much higher than
it really is. Dunning: "If you're
incompetent, you can't know
you're incompetent ... the
skills you need to produce a
right answer are exactly the
skills you need to recognize
what a right answer is."

James Mattis
Donald J. Trump announced
his selection of retired USMC
General James N. Mattis to be
next US secretary of defense:
"The closest thing we have to
General George Patton."


2016 December 7

Resurgent Japan


The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force is one of the top five navies in the world.

Japan Security Watch blog editor and US Naval Institute News contributor Kyle Mizokami: "The United States and Japan are the two closest military powers in the world today. They're even closer than the US and UK. They train together on a daily basis, and there are major military exercises in air, land, and sea on almost a weekly basis."

Nylon Rage

Roger Cohen

The United States and Britain are hubs of globalized turbo-capitalism and finance. For at least a decade, fears and resentments had been building over the elites and the downsides of modern life. So the British voted to quit the European Union and Americans voted for Donald Trump.

Western democracies are in the midst of an upheaval. Virtual direct democracy through social media has outflanked representative democracy. The major political parties in Britain and the United States will have to prove their relevance again.

Democracies have not been delivering. A way is needed to restore faith in our societies. Germany, with its balance of capitalism and solidarity, its respect for the labor force, and its commitment to education and training, offers a model.

AR I discussed virtual direct democracy in chapter 1111 of G.O.D. Is Great (2010).

Eurosceptic Union

Brendan O'Neill

The overthrow of Matteo Renzi is the latest revolt against the new managerial elites. The Italian people knew very well that Brussels was backing Renzi. And they know the Five Star Movement, which wants a referendum on the euro, is likely to be a beneficiary of the turmoil.

So the people of Italy join the people of Britain in rejecting the bureaucrats. Brexiteers were inspired by the early revolts of the Dutch and French and by the fighting Irish. In turn, we Brits, French, Dutch, Italian, and Irish have emboldened Eurosceptics elsewhere.

Some revolts will go in a good direction, others in a dodgy one. But what binds them together is hope that politics can be reclaimed from the committee rooms of the technocrats and brought crashing back down to the rowdy, wonderful court of public opinion.

AR Be careful what you wish for.

2016 December 6


Angela Merkel

Eine Situation wie die des Sommers 2015 kann, soll und darf sich nicht wiederholen. Das war und ist unser und mein erklärtes politisches Ziel. Nicht alle der 890.000 Menschen, die gekommen sind, können und werden bleiben.

Hier bei uns in Deutschland gelten die Gesetze unseres Landes. Und zwar für jeden und jede in gleicher Art und Weise. Unser Recht hat Vorrang vor Stammesregeln, vor Ehrenkodexe und der Scharia. Bei uns heißt es: Gesicht zeigen, deswegen ist die Vollverschleierung nicht angebracht, sie sollte verboten sein.

Deutschland geht es nur dann gut, wenn es auch Europa gut geht. Wir müssen in dieser Lage, in der die Welt aus den Fugen geraten ist, zunächst alles daran setzen, dass Europa nicht noch schwächer aus den Krisen hervorgeht, als es hineingegangen ist. Unsere Zukunft hängt einzig und allein von unserer Stärke ab und die haben wir selbst in der Hand.

AR Letzter Absatz gilt auch für VK.

UK Lost Decade

Mark Carney

It doesn't feel like the good old days in the UK. Anxiety about the future has increased, productivity hasn't recovered, and real wages are below where they were a decade ago. No one alive today has experienced this before.

Monetary policy has been highly effective. The data do not support the idea that the period of low rates has benefited the wealthiest at the expense of the least wealthy. All monetary policy has distributional effects, but it is rightly the role of elected governments to take measures to offset them if they so choose.

Politicians need to foster a globalization that works for all. Redistribution and fairness also means turning back the tide of stateless corporations. Companies must be rooted and pay tax somewhere.

AR Nation states like the UK must learn to live with their neighbors before they can hope to put up an effective common front against global corporations.

Breakthrough Science

The New York Times

The Breakthrough Foundation handed out more than $25 million in annual prizes.

A special $3 million prize went to the LIGO experiment that detected gravitational waves from colliding black holes. The money will be split among Ronald Drever, Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss, and the other 1,012 scientists on the team.

The regular Breakthrough physics prize went to string theorists Andrew Strominger, Cumrun Vafa, and Joseph Polchinski. Strominger and Vafa used string theory to compute the entropy of a black hole and Polchinski generalized string theory to brane theory.

The Breakthrough mathematics prize went to Jean Bourgain for work including a decoupling theorem generalizing the Pythagorean theorem to the superposition of waves.

Life science prizes went to:
Stephen Elledge for exploring how cells sense and respond to damage in their DNA and for insights into the development and treatment of cancer;
Harry Noller for helping to unravel the structure of ribosomes and the role of RNA for them;
Roeland Nusse for work on a gene that plays a crucial role in the development of embryos, stem cells, bone growth, and the progression of cancer;
Huda Zoghbi for work on the genes behind the neurodegenerative disorders Spinocerebellar ataxia and Rett syndrome;
Yoshinori Ohsumi for work on how cells recycle themselves that could help us better understand the process of aging.

AR Glad the gravity wave work was rewarded.

2016 December 5

Guts and Democracy

The Times

In Italy, prime minister Matteo Renzi resigned after losing his referendum on constitutional reform. Opposition leader Beppe Grillo had urged Italians to vote with their guts, not their brains.

Analysts fear a run on Italian banks and a plunge in the euro. The stability of the European Union is endangered. Italy will probably join France, the Netherlands, and Germany in holding elections next year, with the populists on the march.

AR Populism is a force the EU must learn to live with. The public image of the EU in the UK is far below what it needs to be to gain any popular traction. No wonder so many Brits want to leave it.

Violence and Death

Martin Amis

Violence is always a failure of articulacy. When I create a monster character, the covers of the book are like the bars of a cage. You can look at this monster and admire its severity and horror, but it doesn't mean you secretly want violence.

History is accelerating and the novel has responded to that. The narrative has to be much stronger than it used to be. Novelists are modern people too, and they felt this acceleration of history. You write the novels you want to read, and as I get older I write about the past.

I'm writing an autobiographical novel about three other writers — a poet, a novelist and an essayist — Philip Larkin, Saul Bellow, and Christopher Hitchens. Larkin died in 1985, Bellow died in 2005, and Hitch died in 2011, and that gives me a theme, death.

AR Words, words, words — they all died — the end.

2016 December 4

Planet Earth

Stephen Hawking

I warned before the Brexit vote that it would damage scientific research in Britain, that a vote to leave would be a step backward. What matters now is how the elites react. To reject the vote as an outpouring of crude populism would be a terrible mistake.

The concerns about globalization and technological change are understandable. The automation of factories and the rise of artificial intelligence will accelerate the widening economic inequality around the world. Many people are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.

With the global spread of the internet and social media, economic inequalities are far more apparent than in the past. The lives of the richest people in the world are visible to anyone, so the rural poor join the economic migrants in search of a better life. These migrants undermine tolerance and fuel political populism.

Now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it, so we need to work together to protect it.

We need to break down barriers within and between nations. Our leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many. With resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we are going to have to learn to share far more than at present.

We must help people to retrain for a new world and support them financially while they do so. If communities cannot cope with current levels of migration, we must encourage global development. This will require the elites to learn humility.

2016 December 3

Ivanka Trump, Climate Czar?


Ivanka, 35, Trump's avatar among the moneyed left-wing elite, is poised to play a larger public role than the first lady. She is positioning herself as a bridge to moderates and liberals disgusted and depressed with the tone and tenor of the new leader of the free world.

The ambitious daughter who once plotted her career around international brand domination is apparently planning to make climate change one of her signature issues.

AR If so, good news.

Mad Dog Mattis

Mail Online

US Marine Corps General James N. Mattis commanded a division in the invasion of Iraq and fought in Afghanistan. Also known as the Warrior Monk, he took the book Meditations by Marcus Aurelius into battle. His philosophy of warfare:

The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event.

That said, there are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot.

It's fun to shoot some people.

There is nothing better than getting shot at and missed. It's really great.

I'm pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I'll kill you all.

Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.

The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.

Marines don't know how to spell the word defeat.

Wherever the enemy wants to fight, we will follow him to the ends of the Earth.

AR Any friend of Marcus Aurelius is a friend of mine.

2016 December 2

Richmond Park Surprise

The Guardian

Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney won the by-election in Richmond Park. She gained a majority of 1,872, just under 50% of the vote, to unseat former Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who had won a 23,000 majority in 2015. The vote was a de facto plebiscite on Brexit — Lib Dems said the strongly pro-remain constituency should have an MP who opposed hard Brexit.

Olney: "Richmond Park was full of people like me, who felt the country was going wrong, that the politics of anger and division were on the rise, that the liberal, tolerant values we took for granted were under threat."

The Selfish Gene

Matt Ridley

Richard Dawkins published his bestseller The Selfish Gene in 1976.

The book explored a new way of looking at evolution. Bill Hamilton had argued that the reason people devote themselves to raising their children was because this furthered the survival of their genes. Dawkins saw that natural selection is not mainly choosing among species, or groups, or even individuals, all of which are transient aggregations, but among genes.

Dawkins: "Genes are in a sense immortal. They pass through the generations, reshuffling themselves each time they pass from parent to offspring ... Our basic expectation on the basis of the orthodox neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is that genes will be 'selfish'."

Daniel Dennett: "Many laypeople and even some biologists may fail to appreciate how bountiful this shift of attention has been."

AR Good book. The idea played a central role in the argument of my book Coral.

2016 December 1

The German Challenge

Nina Schick

The European Union is teetering:

Italy Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is likely to lose a referendum on constitutional reform.
Austria Freedom Party (FPÖ) presidential candidate Norbert Höfer looks set to be elected.
Holland Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders calls for a European patriotic spring.
France Front National presidential candidate Marine Le Pen looks set to do well next spring.
Germany Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is making waves ahead of elections next fall.

Germany may have to lead alone on Brexit, Russia, Turkey, migrants, the EZ crisis, and dealing with US president Trump.

UK Needs Written Constitution

Anthony Barnett

The sovereignty of parliament is key to UK political arrangements. By making the will of the people sovereign, the Brexit referendum is constitutional dynamite for those arrangements. A written constitution is now essential to:

1 Establish a separation of powers between the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary
2 Define the political powers and rights of citizens
3 Express the aspirations of UK society

AR Hear hear

Alt-Right's Jewish Godfather

Jacob Siegel

The night America elected Donald Trump president, Richard Spencer crowed: "We're the establishment now." His former mentor Paul Gottfried is a retired Jewish academic who studied at Yale under Herbert Marcuse.

Gottfried is a Nietzschean American nationalist. In his view, there are inherent differences between races, genders, religions, and nations, so equality is unnatural and is imposed by a class of managers who enforce multiculturalism and political correctness. Gottfried distinguishes social Darwinism from the corrupted version exploited by the Nazis and says Hitler was not a fascist but a far-right counter-revolutionary response to Stalin.

Richard Spencer created the website Alternative Right in 2010. Spencer: "American society today is so — pardon my French — fucking middle class in its values. There is no value higher than having a pension and dying in bed. I find that profoundly pathetic. So, yeah, I think we might need a little more chaos in our politics, we might need a bit of that fascist spirit in our politics."

AR More chaos


Blogs 2000—2016

2016 Q4
2016 Q3
2016 Q2
2016 Q1
2015 Q4
2015 Q3
2015 Q2
2015 Q1
2014 Q4
2014 Q3
2014 Q2
2014 Q1
2013 Q4
2013 Q3
2013 Q2
2013 Q1
2012 Q4
2012 Q3
2012 Q2
2012 Q1
2011 Q4
2011 Q3
2011 Q2
2011 Q1
2010 Q4
2010 Q3
2010 Q2
2010 Q1
2009 Q4
2009 Q3
2009 Q2
2009 Q1
2008 Q4
2008 Q3
2008 Q2
2008 Q1
Back to Top © J. Andrew Ross 2017-02-19 Contact